If you’ve listened to popular music in the last 50 years, then you’re familiar with the work of John Berg. He was the longtime art director at Columbia Records when album art mattered, when rolling a joint on the cover of a Santana record was an art form unto itself and getting lost in the overall creative experience of music and its visual accoutrements was something to get excited about. Guild Hall in East Hampton is bringing those good vibes back in an exhibition that features many of the four-time Grammy winner’s visual greatest hits.
Berg was the creative visionary behind more than 5,000 album covers, including many that were once (and hopefully still) part of every audiophile’s collection. Berg’s best works include Bob Dylan’s iconic SoHo strut on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Billy Joel’s soulful posturing on 52nd Street and the brotherly love of Clarence Clemons and The Boss that defines Springsteen’s Born to Run.
Berg’s work comes from and speaks to his pure aesthetic, one that foregoes the surface splash of advertising and dives headfirst into true creativity. “I’m a designer,” Berg said. “We try to make things look good and try to have a good time doing it.” That’s the basic marriage that Berg brought to all of his projects. And it’s that simplistic approach that brings a verve to his art and complements the music it represents. It’s a dynamic that Berg knows is long gone. “There doesn’t seem to be a record business anymore. I don’t even know how you get music these days. You go on the computer I guess, and pay for it.”
There may be no way to recapture that special moment when you tear the plastic off a new LP to devour everything about it, but you can bask in the nostalgia of Berg’s fervent creativity as it’s displayed through the New Year.
The John Berg exhibition will run until January 6 at the Wasserstein Gallery, Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton. (631) 324-0806, guildhall.org.
52nd Street, 1978
Art Direction: John Berg
Graphic Design: John Berg
Photography: Don Hunstein