Bob Dylan Transforms Vintage Magazine Covers for 'Revisionist Art' Exhibit

Rolling Stone

A new exhibit of Bob Dylan's artwork opened this week at New York's Gagosian Gallery. Entitled Revisionist Art: Thirty Works by Bob Dylan, the exhibit showcases silkscreened covers of magazines like TV Guide, Life, Architectural Digest and Rolling Stone that Dylan has radically transformed by incorporating new graphics and cover lines.

The works mash up several eras of American history and vary wildly in tone. For example, a Life magazine cover dated August 23rd, 1996, features an early-Sixties photograph of Frank Sinatra and Joey Bishop with a cover line that reads, "Gore to Challenge Giuliani." Another dated February 1st, 1964, recreates the infamous Lee Harvey Oswald Life cover with the headline, "The Secret Life of Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald." (The original cover line was, "Lee Oswald with the weapons he used to kill President Kennedy and Officer Tippit.") The other differences between the real cover and Dylan's new work are relatively subtle.

Photos: The Artwork of Bob Dylan

An Architectural Digest dated January 2007 portrays a 1960s-era woman revealing her crotch in a modern-day, upscale living room. The cover line is "Houses of the East Coast." A March 2001 cover for the apparently nonexistent magazine Movie Scene says, "Mel Gibson Insists 3D Version of the Ten Commandments Movie Will Be Ready for Sundance." Other covers for fake magazines include Bondage, Brothel and Baby Talk, many of which feature images of nude women or grizzly, gnarled men.

Dylan has been creating visual art for decades – his paintings graced the covers of the Band's 1968 album, Music From Big Pink, his own 1970 LP, Self Portrait. But his work was never displayed publicly until 2007, when a museum in Chemintz, Germany exhibited The Drawn Blank Series, a collection of drawings created on the road between 1989 and 1992. Dylan has shown other works in Copenhagen, and last year, The Asia Series – an exhibit of paintings documenting his travels through Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea – was displayed at Gagosian. The latter show caused some controversy when it was revealed that many of the works were based on historic photographs.

The recent exhibits were organized with the help of John Elderfield, former Chief Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York."I got a call from Dylan's manager Jeff Rosen out of the blue," Elderfield tells Rolling Stone. "He said, 'Bob has done this work. Can you tell us what you think?' Ever since then I've been asked to look at things and talk to Bob about them."

Elderfield first saw the images that would eventually make up the Revision Art exhibit while helping Dylan prepare The Asia Series last year. "I was shocked to see something so different from his painted work," Elderfield says. "Those that follow his music know that he changes all the time. I just figured this was Bob being Bob." 

Dylan took great care to recreate the exact fonts, typeface and even the mailing labels from the old magazines. "I know how detail-oriented he is in his work," says Elderfield. "He also has an amazing visual memory and he just has a wicked sense of humor."

Critics are likely to draw parallels between the works in Revisionist Art and Dylan's recent songs, particularly the ones that appropriate words and phrases from other works. "There's a collage aesthetic in his songs," says Elderfield. "He rightly insisted the visual work has nothing to do with his music, but the very fact this is dealing with using and revising source material very explicitly, methodologically it's very similar to what the composition of the songs are like."

It's unclear what direction Dylan plans on taking his artwork next time around, but Elderfield says that Dylan has been working on sculptures. In the meantime, Revision Art is open to the public and on view through January 12th.