JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, Beat Bop by Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, 1983 © The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / Adagp, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco 

7 super-rare album covers designed by basquiat, warhol, nan goldin, and more

Emily Manning

Tracing the history of modern art through iconic vinyl artwork.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, Beat Bop by Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, 1983 © The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / Adagp, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco 

You’re probably familiar with the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico’s self-titled debut album. (Perhaps that big banana — designed, of course, by Andy Warhol — was the first record you ever bought.) But did you know that, 15 years prior, in 1952, a young Warhol’s illustrations covered The Nation’s Nightmare, a CBS Radio broadcast about narcotics and crime?

Or that, in 1992, Cindy Sherman created an album cover for Babes in Toyland? (Apparently, the photographer stopped by a few of the incendiary punk band’s raucous CBGB shows.) Or that long before Collier Schorr photographed Lady Gaga’s Joanne portrait, she worked with British trip-hop outfit Sneaker Pimps in the late 1990s.

These record cover collaborations all feature in Art & Vinyl. The unprecedented exhibition — now on view at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery — is the first to focus on works of art commissioned and created specifically for albums (not records featuring appropriated pieces).

The selection spans seven decades, beginning with a Pablo Picasso illustration from 1949, and concluding with a Sophie Calle-designed record released last year. Along the way, works by: Jean Cocteau, Yves Klein, Josef Albers, Yoko Ono, Lee Friedlander, Robert Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson, Keith Haring, Kiki Smith, David Wojnarowicz, Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, David Shrigley, Ed Templeton, Yayoi Kusama, and Wolfgang Tillmans, among hundreds more (seriously).

All of Art & Vinyl’s impossibly rare LPs are first editions. They belong to the show’s curator, Antoine de Beaupré — author of the photography-focused compendium Total Records , and founder of Librairie 213 (a Paris bookshop specializing in out-of-print titles). Before studying jazz composition at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the late 1990s, de Beaupré had already begun building his LP library. The early hip-hop titles he picked up in his teens have since become valuable resources for producers, unable to locate the long-lost wax.

“Through my business, I’m very familiar with some photography,” de Beaupré tells me. “When I flipped through records, I realized that many photographers and artists had created artwork for covers. So I decided to build a collection with this framework [in mind]. It’s a project that I’ve been working on for more than 10 years,” he explains of Art & Vinyl.

De Beaupré stresses that his collection is by no means a complete index of every record cover ever created by fine artists (Raymond Pettibon’s output alone is staggering). Rather, he focuses on covers that best reflect the artists’ practices in the specific periods the records were made. I ask why, for example, his selection doesn’t include any covers by William Eggleston, the American photographer whose use of saturated color is considered pioneering. First, the majority of Eggleston’s photographs were appropriated for albums rather than created specifically for these records. Second, the one Eggleston commission de Beaupré knows of, a black-and-white picture taken in the early 80s, “to me, is not really representative of the Eggleston work.”

In this sense, Art & Vinyl presents a rich, nuanced history of art from the mid-20th century to today, tracing the currents of conceptual strategies from Abstract Expressionism to Koonsian-sculpture. It’s also teeming with music waiting to be discovered. (Before diving into the catalog, I wasn’t familiar with Consolidated, an early 90s industrial outfit with an activist ethos, whose 1994 album Business of Punishment was designed by Barbara Kruger.)

“What fascinates me is that the LP is a really a popular medium that is accessible to everybody,” says de Beaupré. “I hope Art & Vinyl will bring new music freaks into the world of art, and that art people will start to look at something that is a very common object as something you can put on your wall.” Below, de Beaupré shares the stories behind seven covers.

ANDY WARHOL, The Nation’s Nightmare (Traffic in Narcotics/Crime on the Waterfront), 1952 © 2018 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Andy Warhol, 1952
Title: The Nation’s Nightmare (Traffic in Narcotics/Crime on the Waterfront). Label: Columbia Special Products. Country: USA. Format: 33 rpm. Edition: Unknown.

We associate Warhol with records like The Rolling Stones’s Sticky Fingers which you’ve included in Art & Vinyl. These drawings are so different.
Exactly. Warhol did, I think, over 50 or 60 record covers. All of the Warhol records I picked out I have in the collection simply because I believe they’re really representative of Warhol’s work at their specific periods in time. This is among the very early records by Warhol. The image he drew is so strong, and it’s an image that you wouldn’t be able to reproduce on a cover nowadays. So to place this in its time, it’s incredible and fascinating — the subject of the record and the freedom going on.

ROBERT FRANK, Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones, 1972 © Robert Frank, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Robert Frank, 1972
Performer: The Rolling Stones. Title: Exile on Main St. Label: Rolling Stones Records. Country: USA. Format: 33 rpm. Edition: Unknown.

I read that The Rolling Stones had originally commissioned Man Ray to do this cover.
Yes. Actually, I had the original Man Ray test record cover in the very first show of Total Records. What Man Ray came up with, the Rolling Stones didn’t like it at all. So they asked Robert Frank, because they were friends with him back then. They switched from Man Ray to Robert Frank, which is not bad! [Laughs].

RAYMOND PETTIBON , Jealous Again by Black Flag, 1982 © Raymond Pettibon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Raymond Pettibon, 1982
Performer: Black Flag. Title: Jealous Again. Label: SST Records. Country: USA . Format: 45 rpm/12’’. Edition: Unknown.

Why choose Jealous Again among all of Pettibon’s Black Flag titles?
My purpose in the show and the book was not to come up with a complete list or all the records made by all those artists. I mostly picked up early material, or records that are representative of the artist — the ones that really give a good idea of his work. Similar to Warhol and several others, the collection of Raymond Pettibon records is very, very big. This is among his earliest, and I just love the cover. I have another record that was done much later [Sonic Youth’s Goo] and it’s completely different in style.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, Beat Bop by Rammellzee vs. K-Rob, 1983 © The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / Adagp, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983
Performers: Rammellzee vs. K-Rob. Title: Beat Bop. Label: Tartown Record Co. Country: USA. Format: 45 rpm/12’’. Edition: 500 copies.

I read that Basquiat actually produced this record. Tartown Records was his label.
Yes. Basquiat only did two record covers, and this is one of them. This is a vaulted LP, because it’s extremely rare. They did only 500 back then. And very, very few of these copies have survived over the years. At this time, [Basquiat’s contemporaries in New York graffiti] Futura 2000 and Keith Haring became big in the popular art scene. I think their record covers deserve to be in such a collection along with other big [art world] names. One cover I like a lot is Futura 2000’s work for Cabaret Voltaire [ Fools Game/Gut Level, 1983]. I also printed the backside of the cover in the catalog, which is just black and white spray paint. But I believe it’s so modern — it’s great! Takashi Murakami and Kaws [whose Kanye West album covers are also included in Art & Vinyl], they’re an extension of this generation of artists. I think they’re in the flow of this generation’s thinking.

GERHARD RICHTER, Goldberg Variations, 1984 © Gerhard Richter, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Gerhard Richter, 1984
Performer: Glenn Gould. Title: Bach: The Goldberg Variations. Label: CBS Masterworks. Country: Netherlands. Format: 33 rpm. Edition: 100 copies.

This record has to be unplayable, right?
Yes! [ Laughs]. It’s the holy grail of the collection, because it’s an original painting that is on the LP. Back then, Gerhard Richter was exploring abstract painting. He came up with an edition through an LP. They are all the same record — Bach: The Goldberg Variations, by Glenn Gould — but each painting is unique. He took this record and made it an art piece.

NAN GOLDIN, Ici sur terre by Sous le Manteau, 2000 © Nan Goldin, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Nan Goldin, 2000
Performer: Sous le Manteau. Title: Ici sur terre. Label: Gambler Records. Country: France. Format: 45 rpm/12’’. Edition: 300 copies.

I’m a Nan Goldin nut, and I’ve only ever come upon an appropriated cover from 2002 . How on earth did you find this?
It’s a very, very, very rare record. They only printed 300 copies, and it’s very hard to find. I think it’s been censored, actually, because of the cover. The funny thing is that I know the girl on the cover very well. She has a copy, and I can’t even remember how I got this copy. It came into my collection by accident. Nan Goldin did a film as well, and it was during a period when she was very dark in her work. The two characters on the cover are the main characters, people whom she photographed a lot back then.

RICHARD PRINCE, We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest, 2016 © Richard Prince, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Richard Prince, 2016
Performer: A Tribe Called Quest. Title: We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. Label: Epic. Country: USA. Format: 33 rpm. Edition: Unknown.

Honestly, I wasn’t aware Richard Prince made this cover, though it’s so recent.
I think it closes the selection of records very well. Towards the end of the collection, you really see big names still working on a very popular medium. Here, we are at a very high level of a famous artists, the performer, and the painter. So this suggests that contemporary artists will continue to work with contemporary musicians in new ways. The story won’t be finished!

‘Art & Vinyl’ is on view at Fraenkel Gallery through March 3, 2018. The exhibition’s hardcover catalogue is forthcoming. More information here .