Rutherford Chang vaguely remembers buying The Beatles' self-titled 1968 release from a garage sale as a teenager. But it was his second copy, purchased seven years ago, that set him on a trail that leads him to iMOCA this First Friday.
Chang, a 33-year-old artist who splits his time between New York City and Shanghai, has since gone on to acquire more than 750 copies of The White Album, all of which are showcased in a carefully catalogued, record store-styled show titled We Buy White Albums.
Chang carries only first-edition White Albums - those bearing an embossed title (more or less invisible from a distance) that was replaced in 1975 with gray printing. They're all somehow less than mint, whether they simply bear the inevitable marks of age or have more significant damage, ranging from offhand sketches to water-logged cardboard.
"Every copy has a story behind it," Chang says. "Often I don't know who owned the album - but because of the physical condition of the albums you can always imagine what has happened in the past."
In keeping with its title, the We Buy White Albums shop - which opened in New York City's Recess gallery this February - has grown with each move. iMOCA will buy albums on Chang's behalf with a couple caveats: Chang is looking only for first editions and each copy must be worth less than $20 (keeping with Chang's interest in adding well-worn specimens to the shop).
Visitors are invited to browse and listen to the collection, and Chang plans to digitally record each album and document each cover and disc label when he finishes touring the show. He then plans to press a new double LP "made of the accumulated recordings and images layered upon each other," according to a press release.
Chang's project has earned notice in The New York Times, Hyperallergic - and Wired, which described the White Album as "a memento mori for everything we make: nothing lasts forever, so we should design for that."
"In a way, it's a document of that whole era, of what's happened and the way that these basically white squares have gone out into the world and become unique objects," Chang says of his White Albums. "I obviously didn't create what's on the cover or the way that these vinyls have aged, but it's the way that they've been out in the world and become unique."
In conjunction with Chang's exhibit, Indiana Humanities will host Indiana University music professor Glenn Gass as apart of its INconversation series on June 11 at iMOCA. Visitors are encouraged to arrive a half hour early for lunch provided by Neal Brown's The Brown Bag.
Gass remembers going into Downtown Records in Greencastle upon the album's release, when a preponderance of white squares greeted shoppers in much the same way as does Chang's show.
Coming in the wake of Sgt. Pepper's extravagant photo collage, Gass says that The White Album's plain design was "breathtaking," as it allowed you to "imprint your own imagination" onto the "album's blank canvas." In the same light, he believes the songs on The White Album allow for a more "detours" than Sgt. Pepper's, which takes the listener on more of a guided ride. As such, Gass thinks that Chang's exhibit does the album justice.
"I really do feel like you sort of imprint yourself onto that album and onto those songs," Gass says. "I think the idea of the exhibit itself is brilliant actually."
Sharing iMOCA's gallery space for the month of June is Nathaniel Russell's The Opposite of Lost, featuring a collection of "fake fliers" he's designed over the years, most of which feature lost and found items.