Max Dax

The Beatles’ White Album, designed by Richard Hamilton as a white projection surface, is contrasted with Prince’s Black Album, which can be understood as an expression of self-empowerment in the form of a black square. While the White Album sold millions of copies and was marked by Hamilton – as a comment on the mass-produced product – with an embossed serial number asserting the item’s unique status, the situation with Prince was entirely the opposite: the artist withdrew his music and the recording medium a few days before its scheduled release on 8 December 1987. Hundreds of thousands of vinyl albums were destroyed, and only approximately one hundred copies were inadvertently circulated as review copies – these are truly unique items compared to the Beatles’ White Album.

Both covers have their iconic precedents in painting – Malevich’s Black Square and Robert Ryman’s white squares. In 2007, the US conceptual artist Rutherford Chang began buying up all the copies of the White Album he could lay his hands on at flea markets and in second-hand shops. Since 2012, Chang has been exhibiting his collection of copies of the White Album, now amounting to 2,620, in increasingly large room-installations reminiscent of a record shop. Due to wear and tear along with water stains and “embellishments”, no two white squares look alike. All have aged individually.

100 Shades of White: While the various gradations of white in Rutherford Chang’s installation, We Buy White Albums, are displayed exactly a hundred times as in a record shop, Prince’s Black Album, which enjoys Holy Grail status in the music collectors’ world, is protected by a burglar-proof showcase. What’s more, the showcase stands on a plinth, built around which is a matt-black cube reminiscent of the pilgrimage site Mecca, while the white-painted interior of this space, a white cube, is the ideal setting for the presentation of art offered for sale in galleries. Finally, in the sightline from the entrance to the security showcase hangs the work Judas! I don’t believe you / You are a liar! by Michael Schirner on the facing wall of the white cube. It is an extension of Schirner’s Pictures in Our Minds series into the realm of music. Until the exhibition Black Album / White Cube curated by Max Dax in 2020 at the Kunsthal Rotterdam, the subjects of Schirner’s Pictures in Our Minds were limited to images that have imprinted themselves deeply into the collective consciousness: the footprint of the first man on the moon, the burning Twin Towers, Willy Brandt’s genuflection in Warsaw, etc. – in the form of a black square on which the very event of global significance is succinctly described in white Helvetica. The image is in the mind’s eye of the beholder. Bob Dylan’s famous response to the insult “Judas!” hurled from the audience in Manchester in 1966 was “I don’t believe you / You are a liar!” With his angry reaction, Dylan defended his own artistic stance as a musician rather than as a mere entertainer.

Art leads to new art through appropriation. Dylan’s spontaneous outburst of anger was incorporated into a new work by Schirner; a salvaged original of Prince’s Black Album becomes a monument as a testament to Black self-empowerment in the context of the black-and-white cube as well as a comment on Malevich; all the while the Beatles’ White Album in the context of Rutherford Chang’s We Buy White Albums installation becomes a meditation on the uniqueness of mass-produced products and the nature of projection surfaces.

Max Dax


In the exhibition:

Max Dax / Michael Schirner 
Installation Black Album / White Cube (2020) with Prince's Black Album (1986) and PICTURES IN OUR MINDS: Judas! I Don’t believe You. You are a Liar! (2020) by Michael Schirner,
Silkscreen on canvas, 120 x 120 cm
Courtesy of the artist + Private Collection Hamburg