Co-Prosperity Sphere presents
Jackets Required (aka Party Night at Joe's)
Curated by Joe Bryl
Opening Reception - Friday, September 15 @ 6 PM
3219-21 S. Morgan, Chicago, IL 60607
"For a collector," writes critic Walter Benjamin* in "Unpacking My Library," ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to things." Collectors need collections. That seems obvious; but how and when does the presence of random objects coalesce into a collection? When are collections personal and private obsessions lining one's walls and when are they part of a national identity? At what point does mere possession develop into that more "intimate relationship" of ownership, when the sheer number of things - things that are at once the same yet different; discrete yet part of a series, reproducible yet unique - become a collection, visible, with a life of its own? When are you transformed from someone just looking to one who must have, who becomes what is known in the collecting world as a "completest", one who knows it all?"
* Associated with the Frankfurt School, Benjamin was a noted eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism. Benjamin is today best known for his posthumously published "Arcades Project", considered one of the 20th century's seminal texts of cultural criticism.
"American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street" (Princeton University Press, 2014)
- Paula Rabinowitz
"This is the dialectic - there is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains an element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art."
-Douglas Sirk, noted director
These insightful and perceptive observations into the ways in which collecting and the forms and directions in which it may take exposes the "why" and "how" collectors pursue their passions. Centered around a genuine and deeply felt interest of the items themselves, the collectors obsession can be purely aesthetic, emotional or intellectual (or in many cases a combination of all three).
As opposed to hoarders who amass miscellaneous objects such as tchotchkes, trash, newspapers, household supplies and even food compulsively regardless of value or aesthetic concerns, collectors seek out their acquisitions in a more systematic and passionate manner. Collections are based normally around a theme, whether it be toward the more commonplace practice of organizing, displaying and cataloging objects such as stamps, coins, baseball cards, books, antiques, toys and historical memorabilia or for those wealthy enough rare artworks, properties and jewelry.
Beginning in the 16th century, many European notables amassed collections that were dubbed a "cabinet of curiosities" which included natural history objects (often faked), religious relics, antiquities and early mechanical wonders. Similar later day collections as Barnum's American Museum during the Antebellum Era included a zoo, lecture hall, wax museum, dioramas, theater and freak show. Our current manifestation of this type of Americana showplace of wonders is the House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI with its seemingly never ending complex of a surrealistic landscape overrun with carousel animals, mechanical music machines, preserved animals and flying mannequin angels all illuminated eerily with thousands of lights.
These showman's attractions, and many others, became the illegitimate forefathers to the modern museum or art patron's collection. One such devotee was chemist Albert C. Barnes who traveled to Paris beginning in 1911 and was able to acquire with a connoisseur's eye paintings by some of Europe's up-and-coming modernists such as Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Soutine. Later, in the 1960's, husband and wife Herbert and Dorothy Vogel were able to amass within their rather limited civil servant salaries one of the most important collections of minimalist and conceptual art which they generously bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art.
To take a more systematic and unconventional look into the art of personal collecting and its attachment to a group of objects that resonate to an individual's personal obsessions, the Co-Prosperity Sphere (3219-21 S. Morgan) is showcasing "Jackets Required (aka Party Night at Joe's)" with an opening on Friday, September 15 @ 6 PM. Curated by Joe Bryl, noted DJ and previous co-owner and musical director of the famed Chicago nightclub Sonotheque, "Jackets Required" will exhibit his off-kilter and off-beat collection of bizarre record cover art, Post WWII pulp paperbacks, 70's raunchy and risque Sexploitation posters and other unorthodox and eclectic ephemeral objects made to shock and amuse even the most jaded viewer.
The initial yet still resonating interest in bizarre record cover art and its often overlooked peculiar music found its genesis with the RE/Search publication of "Incredibly Strange Music" in 1993 by V. Vale and Andrea Juno, San Francisco-based underground publishers noted for their hugely influential punk rock fanzine "Search & Destroy" (1977-1979). As they note in Volume 2 of Incredibly Strange Music . . .
. . . there are thousands of undocumented recordings which have yet to be unearthed and appreciated - many of which were produced and distributed locally. A record may be worth owning if it has just one outstanding track, or perhaps just beautiful, provocative cover artwork (especially if it's cheap). A universe of unusual 45s awaits an encyclopedic overview, not to mention countless vinyl records from other countries. Readers (and travelers) are encouraged to have fun inventing their own categorizations and collecting specialties as they uncover an "incredibly strange" sonic past they never knew existed, and which yet awaits rediscovery in the garages and storerooms of the world.
Since its publication, there doesn't seem a genre of music and specialized artistic theme that has not found its adherents, admirers and social historians. "Incredibly Strange Music" was quickly followed by a rather diverse and often specialized books on the wide thematic changes in record cover art including "In the Groove: Vintage Record Graphics 1940-1960", "Naked Vinyl: Bachelor Album Cover Art", "The Album Cover Art of Soundtracks", "Album Covers from the Vinyl Junkyard", "Radical Album Cover Art", "Stir It Up: Reggae Album Cover Art", "Vinyl Vixens: The Alluring Ladies of Vintage Album Covers" and Taschen's huge "Jazz Covers" and its equally massive "1000 Record Covers". With no end in sight, publishers will keep unearthing the alluring artwork of original and unique record cover art to a unquenchable fan base.
The similar interest both in popular culture and historical research in out of the ordinary record cover art saw a similar attentive attraction to the art work that was used to sell pulp paperbacks to a ready and eager public and film posters that beckoned their audience into the theaters for a mixture of comfort (air-conditioning), thrills, escape and of course entertainment.
Pocketbooks, with their arresting artwork and modernistic design motifs became a part of the nomenclature during WW11 with their accessibility (a soldier in combat could put it easily in his pocket, hence its name, at the same time that he landed onshore at Normandy) and they made themselves more appealing with their inexpensive pricing (usually around 25 cents) and accessibility. Its mixture of upper-toned literary content (George Orwell, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Emile Zola) and salacious subjects like lesbianism, Satanism, juvenile delinquency, murder, crime and sexual infidelity (to name a few) saw intrepid publishes making a killing selling paperbacks in runs of 200,000 when the average printing of a hardbound best seller would be in the thousands.
As Paula Rabinowitz elaborates further in "American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street" . . .
"The paperback revolution sparked a certain form of reading - what I call demotic reading - as it lured readers with provocative covers at an affordable price into a new relationship with the private lives of books and so with themselves."
"A lowly yet somehow revered object, the paperback book exemplifies a modernist form of multimedia in which text, image, and material come together as spectacle to attract and enthrall a recipient, its audience, its reader. This medium was designed for maximum portability and could move seamlessly from private to public spaces."
The same sales pitch made by the pulp paperback phenomena was unfailingly and vigorously used by film companies from its earliest inception in the 1900's by movie hucksters, promotional agents and exploiters to lure a widely democratized yet varied audience arresting images in posters and other film paraphernalia to tempt and literally drag them into the theaters daily. This sensationalistic sales pitch did not differ greatly if one was selling an "A" product like DW Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" (1915), Robert Aldrich's "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) or Joseph P. Mawra's camp sadism-laden quickie "Olga's House of Shame" (1964).
"Jacket's Required" brings to light for the first time Joe Bryl's massive collection of weird record covers, pulp paperbacks from the 40's through the 70's, European and American Sexploitation and Sleaze movie posters and other visual oddities. It is our hope that "Jackets Required" can both document how these different yet intertwined art forms worked their magic skillfully and artistically to enchant, seduce and sometimes even repulse its audience.
It is only fitting that we quote Paula Rabinowitz once more . . .
"The (objects) acquire value a secret value, not for "their usefulness" as Benjamin notes, but "as the scene, the stage, of their fate," which is to evaporate. A collection is always disappearing, even as it grows. It recedes into its owners past, and foretells her passing."
The show continues through October 1.