Ulster Museum

The Art of Selling Songs: Music Graphics from the V&A

Artwork for some of the world’s greatest album covers from a wide-ranging spectrum of genres from the 19th century to 2016. The accompanying exhibition Overtones: Irish Music Art celebrates artwork for Irish musicians and by Irish artists.

Fri 14 Jun 2019 - Sun 15 Sep 2019

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In 1991 the Victoria and Albert Museum, London staged an exhibition called The Art of Selling Songs: Graphics for the Music Business 1690–1990. Now, over 25 years later, the packaging of music has changed beyond recognition, as the 12-inch vinyl record sleeve has been replaced by a handful of pixels on a screen. Drawing from the V&A’s long-standing collection of music graphics, this exhibition explores how graphic design wraps around music, and considers the past, present and future of the artform. A century of trends in visual culture, graphic design and consumerism are framed within the world of popular music marketing. 

The Art of Selling Songs takes you on a fascinating journey through the artwork of music marketing, from the phonograph cylinder to the Spotify playlist. Among the artwork and objects are posters from the late 1800s advertising French and British live ‘smoking concerts’, rare record sleeves for artists such as Louis Armstrong and Blue Mitchell right through to the complex sleeves designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth for the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album.

In between are 1920s discs made from rubber, shellac and minerals, vinyls that emerged after the Second World War and the introduction of cassettes in the 1960s and CDs in the 1980s.

The exhibition also celebrates the contribution of a range of well-known artists and designers from the late 19th century to the 21st century, including Henri Gabriel Ibels, Reginald Mount, Andy Warhol, Albert Watson, Peter Saville and Julien Opie and reflects the changes in printing methods, design trends and how performers influenced how they wanted to portray their personality.

Overtones: Irish Music Art

Music has always played an enormous role in Irish culture and identity. From Irish Traditional music and the celebrated sounds of the Showbands, through the rebellion of Punk and Irish Rock music of the 1970s and 1980s, to the international superstardom of bands such as U2, Snow Patrol and Ash.

This selection of images, artworks and objects shows the range and skill of the designers and artists who translated the music into striking visual imagery.

Please share your favourite album cover with us #OvertonesUM  

Image credit: Design for ‘Lonely in Paris’ by Gloss, 2000, by Julie Verhoeven
© Julie Verhoeven. Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum (E.616-2011)