Unbelievable Things: 25 Years of Art on Merge Records
LIGHT Art + Design
Through Aug. 9

As a part of its 25th anniversary ballyhoo, Merge goes multimedia in Unbelievable Things: 25 Years of Art on Merge Records, an exhibit in the Durham label’s original home of Chapel Hill.

The show offers an up-close look at the original art behind some of Merge’s most iconic album covers, from Caribou’s Andorra to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, with a healthy amount of space given to Superchunk covers created by Mac McCaughan or Laura Ballance.

The exhibit is an interesting opportunity to interact with album art in an entirely different fashion. You wouldn’t expect, for example, that the cover of The Rosebuds’ Life Like was painted on a large piece of corrugated cardboard.

Another compelling piece is “Beautillion Militaire 2000,” a 20-panel grid of 5-by-5 inch paintings by Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, which appeared on the cover of 2012 album Mr. M. The paintings are small, but there is striking detail in each one, thanks to the thick texture and application of the paint.

Even the photographic prints are engaging. Harrison Haynes’ “Oran Mor,” which was used as the cover for 2012 Superchunk single “This Summer” b/w “Cruel Summer,” is a photo of what appears to be a leather chair under an orange light, moments after someone lifted him or herself out of it. The print is so big and the colors so bold that you can almost feel the texture and warmth of the scene.

By contrast, “Grandpa Bill’s Pillow,” which graces the cover of The Rock*A*Teens’ Baby, a Little Rain Must Fall, is gag-inducing with its image of a massive, greasy pillow that has clearly never been washed. Is it high art? Maybe not. But this show provides valuable insights for music fanatics and intrigue for casual fans, too.