There’s perhaps no starker cover design in the history of the music that helped define a generation than that of The Beatles’ “White Album” (a section of the inner gatefold is shown above). It was also an image (or non-image, actually) that’s consumed conceptual artist and collector extraordinaire Rutherford Chang, who amasses old copies of the vinyl recording (first pressings only), the more weathered and beaten the better, with an eye towards how Beatle lovers have used the blank white space as individual canvasses inscribed with their own creations — poetry, sketches, messages — a couple of which appear at left.
Earlier this year, the 33-year-old Chang opened what he called an “anti-store” at the Recess art gallery in New York City’s Soho district, and named it “We Buy White Albums,” where visitors could browse or offer their own records for consideration. The wall of white featured in the installation showed the individuality of the personal journeys that accompanied the iconic work’s release, and the collection will next be part of an exhibit at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center beginning in January. Chang now owns more than 900 copies; three million were originally issued in 1968, the year the album came out, each with its own distinct serial number imprinted in the bottom right-hand corner.
His project became a two-part affair, encompassing both the visual and aural. Last week, coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the “White Album”’s debut, Chang offered up a digital sound compilation that overdubbed 100 copies of the collected albums — scratches and hisses included. The artist, who was 15 when he bought his own first copy, says the “White Album” is “a document of an era that will never be replicated.”
Makes you want to crank up that old turntable all over again.