There is no real doubt as to the subject of the latest exhibition at Baltic 39. Downstairs one is confronted by an assortment of vinyl records affixed to the wall, while the main exhibition space offers a choice of two halves. One is centred on an array of Sun Ra records atop a lurid wall painting courtesy of artist Graham Dolphin. The other contains Christian Marclay’s ‘Looking for love’, a cute projection that traces the movement of a needle as it skips over the surface of a record. The exhibition is extensive, with twenty-eight artists listed, a lengthier list of works and a thirty-nine-point floor plan ostensibly indicating the relationship between the two.
Unsurprisingly there are plenty of nods to popular culture. Jonathan Monks’ graceful prints of Smith’s records neatly elevate themselves with coloured pushpins, while Graham Dolphin rips Dylan up, then starts again, leaving Bob looking tenderly unsure of himself as he wavers by the wall. Jim Lambie approaches the record in its sculptural capacity, stacking them with concrete in works that sit heavily upon the floor. There is also a range of fan made record covers courtesy of RPM, the record store neighbouring Baltic 39.
Beyond this post-conceptual pop art there are an array of works focusing less on the culture surrounding vinyl but the possibility of the record as a means of distributing artwork. These include a selection of records and ephemera by Zoviet*France and Benedict Drew’s limited edition 7” ‘Notes on the Anxiety Of A Record Running Out’.
Much of this work, however, becomes neutered by frustrating modes of presentation. Countless records are presented in vitrines, in frames, physically inaccessible. With the possible exception of Jonty Semper’s ‘ The One Minute Silence From The Funeral Of Diana, Princess of Wales’ one imagines that looking at these records is not the best way to enjoy them.
There is the option to listen to a selection of these sound works, but ironically the opportunity is offered via an iMac in the centre of the gallery space. The iMac, particularly with the presence of no less than three record players in the exhibition, comes across as the main bullet in the foot of this show - vinyl surely only continues exists as a cultural phenomenon due to humanity’s reluctance to live the minimal possession, maximum information utopia currently being designed for us by Big Tech. The tactile, mass market, pleasure of vinyl is thus neatly deadened, becoming an art object like any other.
It’s worth noting that alongside the exhibition are a series of linked live performances, including one by the aforementioned Zoviet*France. Within the immediate context of the show however, it’s those artists who have created work about the popular music culture surrounding vinyl that are most successful. Whilst the exhibition as a whole leaves much to be tangibly desired, there are works that strike a chord, such as David Blandy’s ‘What is soul’ in which a sensitive white male, headphones jacked into a record player, mouths along with a po-faced, silent enthusiasm.