Sunday, 11 December 2011

Task 2 - Benjamin and Mechanical Reproduction

Read the Walter Benjamin's essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. Write a 300 word analysis of one work of Graphic Design, that you think relates to the themes of the text, and employing quotes, concepts and terminology from the text.

I started this task with the idea of using Alan Fletcher's Pizza poster which have recently been on sale as limited edition prints for £215 at Kemistry Gallery to celebrate ten years of the publication of the Art of looking sideways. I wanted to compare a piece of Graphic Design, designed to communicate to the masses now being given 'Aura' by the art establishment.  I could not trace however what Fletcher designed the Pizza for originally but it did lead me to this interesting article in the New York Times.

The Man Who Broke the Record on 'Let It Bleed'

The cover image at first appears at odds with the title however this is explained by the fact the record was originally entitled 'Automatic changer'.
'The title was to be “Automatic Changer,” so Brownjohn photographed a surreal assortment of circular objects — a plate, film can, clock face, pizza, tire and wedding cake — stacked above a vinyl LP as if they were on one of the autochanger mechanisms that enabled old-fashioned record players to play numerous albums without stopping.'

'His artwork for “Let It Bleed” is to be auctioned Thursday at Bonhams in London for an estimated price of at least €35,000, about $47,000, which is, inevitably, inflated by its association with the Rolling Stones. But Brownjohn, who died of a heart attack in 1970 a few days before his 45th birthday, was a remarkably gifted graphic designer, and last week the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 200 examples of his work from his daughter Eliza.'
Whatever the final bid, the new owner won’t just be getting the iconic album art. The auction lot also includes two felt-tip pen concept sketches on envelopes, two color positives, two color negatives of the final front and back covers, a U.S. pressing of the album, and a photo of Richards and Mick Jagger checking the cover proofs.

Read more:

Plan to discuss:

The design was intended to be sold with the music - to a mass market.  Now become 'elite' and been given an aura being sold at auction for vast sums of money 
Also MOMA are buying work to exhibit as 'Art' thus providing an aura to work than was intended for mass communication

Album cover art is a good example of what Benjamin describes as ' the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility'.  When Brownjohn was commissioned to design the Rolling Stones album cover his intention was to design a distinctive Album Cover to be reproduced and distributed to the masses, not to produce a work of art for its own sake.  In Benjamin's words ' technical reproduction...enables the original to meet the beholder halfway'

Brownjohn's work has since achieved both aura and authenticity.  Authenticity in the sense that Benjamin describes as 'the presence of the original' and 'the essence of all that is transmissable from its beginning' ie through its context in history. So whilst Benjamin proposed 'that which withers away in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art'; in fact the aura has been established three fold through its uniqueness, the high monetary value placed on the original piece of Album Art at auction and also through the New York MOMA exhibiting his work as works of art.  The Original art work is now only available to an elite audience of either art lovers or the wealthy.

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