FEATURE: Beyond The Goldmine Standard | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Curated by Matthew Hearn for RPM Music in Newcastle, Beyond the Goldmine Standard has been displaying works by artists involved with the NewBridge Project inspired specifically by album artwork. Inspired by fan-made album sleeves found inside RPM, the exhibition has simultaneously been a celebration of vinyl artwork and an examination of what constitutes worth and value. Each Monday, a new batch of carefully designed sleeves have been released and displayed in RPM, showing off redesigns of everything from David Bowie and Stevie Wonder to The Bee Gees and Dire Straits. This Saturday 16th May, the exhibition is ending with a sale of the individual artworks to the public.

As the exhibition draws to a close and the impending Saturday sale approaches, I talked to Matthew about the exhibition, artists’ interpretations of album covers and his favourite vinyl artwork.

What first inspired you to curate Beyond the Goldmine Standard?

There are two real catalysts. Firstly for a long time Ritchie (of RPM) and I have been talking about a project linked to a collection of record sleeves found in RPM onto which fans had drawn, copying album artwork or portraying the band. Some of these are quite amazing objects where someone has hand re-made a Beatles album cover from magazine cut-outs and sellotape or meticulously copied a Black Sabbath album cover in felt-tip – which is a lot of black pen. In other cases they are more biro-doodles like you might have done to occupy yourself whilst at school. In terms of their monetary value, these additions are seen as detrimental to the value of the record which is where the Goldmine Standard comes in – it is the system that is used to catalogue records in terms of their condition and associated worth – yet to me these interventions signify just how much someone once valued these objects. Anyhow when Alessandro Vincentelli and BALTIC first began discussions around The Curves of the Needle, I mentioned this collection of records to him and a selection of these fan-made record sleeves ended up in the show.

This connection to fans, and there appreciation of records as objects to be owned, possessed and to some extents circulated drew me back to the idea of the record shop, and RPM MUSIC where I had once worked. I felt I could push the idea of artists’ interest in records back into the music world and that idea has ultimately manifested through Beyond the Goldmine Standard.

In recent years RPM has increasingly sold second-hand records. Much of what they stock and consequently what is for sale is governed by what other people have decided themselves to sell-on.  There are a lot of albums that must of sold 1000s of copies at the time but over the test of time have waivered in popularity and so there are some you see much more than others. Be it high-expectation albums launched by former supergroup members or the latter end of classic rock bands careers, the prevalent existence of these LPs now still marks the fact they were popular once. Yet today a lot of records can be picked up for £3, £4 or £5.

So with Beyond the Goldmine Standard the idea was to invite artists to explore the implications and creative possibilities in stamping a personal signature onto a record. Rhetorically the project is asking, contrary to the Goldmine Standard, how can such modifications compliment or even redeem the perceived value of these (once) ‘popular’ objects. The ultimate test of this being that these re-worked records will be for sale.

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“I felt I could push the idea of artists’ interest in records back into the music world”

How did you get involved with the NewBridge Project and the artists involved in the event?

I started the project locally and but as things have gathered momentum I have been able to invite artists from further afield. Vinyl, and specific albums mean a lot of different things to different people and it is interesting to see how people have formed their own response. Lots of those I invited to participate are themsleves not only artists, but are directly connected or involved in music and the music industry. So for example Susie Green (Silverfox), Rachel Lancaster (Silverfox), Narbi Price (Big Fail), Chris Rollen (Les Cox Sportif and Pea Sea) and Paul Smith (Maximo Park) are all very involved in bands linked to the region. Ross Sinclair who is not only a very established Scottish artist, was also in the band Soup Dragons back in the day. Others such as Flora Whitely and DR.ME (Ryan Doyle & Mark Edwards) have designed album artwork for Field Music and Dutch Uncles respectively. More generally, some artists have grown up with vinyl and hold particular records close to their hearts, while to others it is, in spite of recent figures celebrating the vinyl revival, something rooted in the past. That in itself doesn’t matter; I was foremost interested in how individual artists engaged with the given scale, the relative uniform format of the object and the complete artwork with which each record came.

How did you decide what albums you wanted the artists to work on?

I guess the market made a lot of those decisions for me. It was never intended as a reflection of taste, be that my personal taste or what is perceived to be good taste. There are some ‘classics’ and some albums I haven’t really encountered before and some things that are nowadays very uncool (although not to everyone), but I picked things that visually struck some form of note. There is of course a saturation of albums out there featuring mug shots of the band or artist, which on the whole have very limited artistry to them in the first place, and I tried to give those a wide berth, but in the first instance I pooled a collection of records which I thought might be of interest to someone.

To some artists I invited a response to a specific record, but others I let choose from the selection I had made. For example, I asked Narbi Price to work with a Carpenters LP, Now & Then. It certainly didn’t speak to his musical taste, but the image on the cover felt like something he might have a connection with. The original three-panel cover of the LP features a panoramic view with the then Carpenter’s family home in the background and a Ferrari Daytona in the foreground. The visual language of the quasi-advertising image – the ideal home and desirable car – are transformed in Narbi’s re-working into a Ford Fiesta set against a monolith of dull grey concrete. It works on so many levels.

RPM Music have been displaying the works for a few weeks now; how did they get involved with the project?

Well firstly, as I have already alluded to I worked in RPM in the late nineties and noughties. They are of course located literally across the road from BALTIC39 too so physical closeness as well as the conceptual tie in to the BALTIC39 show was key. We had been discussing for a while a way of doing something more with Record Store Day, adding a bit of further value that wasn’t just about that one day of the year.  Most of the records have of course come from the shop, and whilst I have curated the commissions, we have negotiated ways and means of combining and assimilating these re-worked objects back into the existing matrix of the shop. So re-worked records sit next to or amidst regular album covers and there is a form of dialogue happening there.

After six weeks, the exhibition in RPM has grown to include a total of 67 different record sleeves reworked by 58 different artists. They range from minimal interventions to wholesale re-imagining of the records as three-dimensional sculptures. Anyhow the plan is to keep the project going so there will be part two somewhere down the line.

But in the immediate future, following the final batch of releases next week, all 67 records will be on view in RPM Music from Monday 11th May to Saturday 16th May. The sale will be from 5pm, but you will have to get there early to get your first choice. There will also be a very limited publication documenting all the submissions.

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“It was never intended as a reflection of taste, be that my personal taste or what is perceived to be good taste”

The exhibition is designed to challenge our notions of what constitutes value. Do you think that fan-made artworks have as much value as ones designed or commissioned by record companies?

Album design certainly isn’t the lucrative business it once was. With the decline in music sales, the available budgets have of course decreased and with less physical albums being sold, there is less need for a ‘designed’ product. Every time you go down the high street you see kids wearing t-shirts with albums pictured on them that cynically you imagine they have never heard, but it does make you wonder what album sleeves of the recent past will ever gain such revered status. Indeed, is the record sleeve as a space such an interesting and visible output for artwork any longer? As I say, for the sleeves I chose they weren’t necessarily those celebrated record sleeves like The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, The Velvet Underground & Nico, The Smiths or New Order. I picked LPs in the first instance that had some sense of their own identity. Some of the artists have very much respected that sense of completeness, whilst others have tried to negotiate an interaction with or even re-worked things wholesale.

Of course looking at a lot of these second hand LPs it isn’t just about the cover, but the associated artist. We might normally stop looking at an album based on one or other of these factors but in asking artists to make their mark upon the records, the intention is that we come to these objects afresh, we reconsider our position and rethink their value. Irrespective of the worth of the original LP, these one-off records are going to be for sale at a fixed price of £50 on Saturday 16th May from 5pm. The price is itself important. By recent standards it is a moderately expensive record. It is unquestionably a very affordable artwork, particularly given the quality of the commissions and the contributing artists and the fact they are one offs. But what is key is that they are accessible and possessable – and there is a sense of limitedness which has always been a big pull of records, that is after all what Record Store Day thrives upon. Album sleeves always were a way to own genuinely conceived works of art, and I hope this project celebrates that fact.

Have there been any challenges along the way?

Sorry, not really other than time and resources, for which we have next to none!

Is there a particular piece of album artwork – not fan designed – that you particularly love?

A recent discovery through the process of crate digging for this project was Architecture & Morality by OMD. The sleeve as is immediately apparent from its interlacing and die-cut sections is by Peter Saville, but this is quite understated compared to Blue Monday. Great sleeve, but I am also a total convert to the album. I’m a sucker for die-cuts actually and you can’t beat The XX for them too. But I think my all-time favourite album cover would have to be Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. It’s not just the artwork though. It’s inextricably linked to a time and a place, and I listened to that album to death.

Beyond the Goldmine Standard shows until Saturday 16th May at RPM Music, Newcastle. From 5pm on Saturday 16th May, the artwork will go on sale to the public at RPM Music.

You can see works from Neil Armstrong, Cath Campbell, Katie Cuddon, Ryan Doyle, Graeme Durant, Laura Harrington, Rachel Lancaster, Rob Lowe, Andrew Maughan, Paul Merrick, Annie O’Donnell, Theresa Pulton, Narbi Price and Kuba Ryniewicz in our gallery below:

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