Jerome Acks, Album (#1–80), 2012–, found albums, spray enamel. Installation view.

Jerome Acks, Album (#1–80), 2012–, found albums, spray enamel. Installation view.

Jerome Acks

Jerome Acks, Album (#1–80), 2012–, found albums, spray enamel. Installation view.

The aesthetics of record collecting are a lingua franca for many contemporary young male artists exploring their social and creative identity. The adolescent vinyl fiend, it would seem, remains, however anachronistically, a fixture of the art world. So I couldn’t help but let out an exhausted sigh as I walked into 65Grand’s storefront gallery this summer and saw Jerome Acks’s installation of seventy-three altered album covers and a display of related plaster casts. Immediately, the work of New York artist Ted Riederer came to mind; schooled in the DC punk scene, Riederer has been uniting art with record culture for years, most recently with his roving Never Records, 2010–, which he describes as a “record store within an art exhibition within a retail space.” Viewing Acks’s show, I was reminded of another work by Riederer, a poem titled “In the Heart of Nowhere,” 2010, which takes the form of a bin full of LP covers, each completely blacked out, save for a single word or phrase. It is only as readers flip through the selection that the complete text emerges. Acks, in “smooth square, soft circle,” has also blocked out album art. Yet the result—each cover transformed into an unsentimental, tasteful graphic abstraction—is significantly less romantic.

Having grown up listening to Christian radio, Acks comes to music as a nonfan. Music has never been a defining popular form of entertainment for him, and his handling of the LP as artifact reveals a refreshing degree of disinterestedness. Buying used records from thrift stores, he made these works by first sanding the jackets’ surfaces (in preparation for an application of paint) and then, employing a stencil or masking out his desired shapes with tape, rendering his compositions with speed. The end result reveals only hints of the original graphics—the iconic embossed bird skull emblazoning the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits, the golden palm trees familiar from that band’s Hotel California, a partial image of Neil Diamond. Notably, the covers Acks chose to obscure are anything but arcane.

Album (#1–80), 2012–, is the inclusive title for all seventy-three covers that were on display. Uniformly distributed on clean white narrow wall shelving that wraps around the corners of the gallery, all the albums were positioned so that their sleeves opened to the right. In several places, gaps in the collection indicated that some albums were missing. Breaking up the grid’s regular arrangement, the spaces seemed to function as a reminder that these works, like vinyl, also circulate in a system of exchange. But exactly which market would that be? The art market? The secondhand-record market? The niche vinyl-enthusiast market? This ambiguity provides a compelling subtext to Acks’s project. Here, the presentation of altered used-record sleeves—shown in a way that nods, simultaneously, to the aesthetics of contemporary-art display and to the conventions of a local record shop—evoked an economy that could not be named.

Rectangles framing disembodied singing mouths, the italicized word AGAIN, a partial close-up of a woman’s eye attended by a restrained array of abstract marks, and bits of color and texture establish Acks’s unmistakable square fields. These formal investigations appear eclectic yet familiar, even comfortable, within the context of abstract painting today—one haunted by the graphic experiments of El Lissitzky and softened by the elegant process-based abstractions of contemporary artists such as Zak Prekop. The only other work in the exhibition, Press Mold (#1–5), 2012, stood in the center of the gallery. A collection of hulking plaster record molds resting atop pristine gray utility shelves, it humorously monumentalize the artist’s attempt to make ceramic records, which, of course, can never actually be played. Free of the cultural weight that, say, Riederer must feel when handling the same, Acks can engage these elements as raw material. Yet for the viewer, the signifier of the album—the smooth square, the soft circle—is indelible, leaving even Acks’s most abstracted album cover vulnerable to fandom.

Michelle Grabner