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The San Francisco Art Exchange exhibits original album cover artwork

The SFAE gallery is the number one dealer for the original art of rock ‘n’ roll, and Goldmine talks to those behind the scenes of the exhibit "Art of the Album Cover."
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By Gillian G. Gaar

The San Francisco Art Exchange is a pioneer of original art and photographs of pop culture,” according to Jim Hartley and Theron Kabrich, co-owners of the SFAE gallery, which opened in San Francisco in 1983. “We are focused on popular iconography from the worlds of film, art, music and history and are guided by the thesis that popular iconography is the language a culture uses to speak to itself in real time and later memorializes those communications as important parts of historical record.

“We’ve sold original artwork of iconic album covers for the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among many others. Virtually every record sale of the art of rock ‘n’ roll has occurred at SFAE,” they continue. “At our downtown San Francisco gallery, we’ve hosted live events by everyone from music superstars Brian Wilson and Graham Nash, to civil rights legend Clarence Jones and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. Our most recent project was the sale of a rare portfolio of photographs of President John F. Kennedy, celebrating the centennial of his birth in cooperation with the Kennedy Foundation, with a percentage of the proceeds benefitting the foundation.”

Currently up for sale at the gallery is what’s been called “the single most valuable artwork in rock history”: the original artwork for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Not a Floyd fan? You’ll also find artwork from albums by the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and the Doors, among others, on display, and for sale. It’s your once-in-a-lifetime chance to acquire a piece of art history.

Hartley and Kabrich kindly answered further questions via email:

Goldmine: How did you get the idea for this exhibit?

We had sold the original design artwork for Dark Side of the Moon to one of our clients some years ago. Since it is a one-of-a-kind of one of the three most famous album covers of all time (Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being the other two), it is a very unique case and quite arguably the most valuable album artwork of all time. Our collector who currently owns the works began talking with us over a year ago about potentially reselling. The idea began to form that we should put together the most important exhibition of original artwork of the album cover ever presented with Dark Side of the Moon as the headline imagery. Our gallery is the number one dealer for the original art of rock ‘n’ roll, and virtually every record sale has been recorded here. As a result, over the past 35 years we have made the friendships with hundreds of collectors the world over, who trust us implicitly. As the idea of the exhibit grew in scope, we contacted many of our previous collectors who were excited to participate in loaning their artworks for sale and display in the exhibition. Also, we represent more than 100 rock ‘n’ roll artists, and they too were enthused to take part with works still in their possession.

What size is the Dark Side of the Moon artwork? Is it the most valuable piece on offer? What are the other more valuable offerings in the exhibit?

Dimensions of each drawing are 27” x 16”. Yes, Dark Side of the Moon is not only the most valuable in this exhibit, it is also the most valuable original rock and roll artwork of all. Some of the other particularly valuable artworks in the exhibition are shown in the attached catalog:

I see there are a number of Pink Floyd original artworks. Can you explain for the reader what the difference is between, say, the “signed original artwork” for Wish You Were Here and a “signed limited edition” offering like the Ramones’ End of the Century C-print photograph?

The signed original artwork for Wish You Were Here is THE single one-of-a-kind original artwork from which the albums were printed. Only one original exists. Similarly, the original artwork for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, which is in our exhibition, is a one-of-a-kind photo collage composed of multiple photographs assembled to create the final artwork, which appears on the album cover as a single flat image. There are many such cases in this exhibition (e.g., Candy-O, Never Say Die, Relayer, and more), which is precisely what makes this curation so special, rare and unlikely to be repeated for public display in its entirety again.

Signed limited edition original photographs are quite valuable as well, and are typically created from the original negative or transparency source. Since they are issued as limited editions, typically signed by the photographer, their value is proportionately more affordable than the unique one-of-a-kind originals, which makes them attainable for many more collectors who would otherwise not be able to acquire them. The fame of the image, its availability, the number created, and the fame and reputation of the photographer all contribute to their relative value. Many of the original limited edition photographs included in this exhibit are completely sold out and therefore difficult to source.

The Pink Floyd artwork gets the headline in the press release; are there other specific pieces you would like to draw attention to?

Yes! Artwork in this exhibit range from $2,000 into the six and seven figures. There’s really something for everyone. Among the most valuable and iconic are:

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the original unique dye transfer photograph from which the album was printed.

Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, the original one-of-a-kind photographic montage from which the album was printed.

The Beatles’ Abbey Road, original R-Type photographs, a matched numbered set of all seven 20’ x 24” photographs from the famed album shoot. Only five such matched sets exist; all were original sold by SFAE..

Yes, Relayer album cover painting by Roger Dean.

Yesshows album cover, painting by Roger Dean.

Jethro Tull album cover paintings for both the front and back cover of Broadsword and The Beast.

The Beatles’ Rubber Soul dye transfer by Robert Freeman; only three created.

The artwork in this show is from the ‘60s and ‘70s. How was this era of album artwork different from previous (or current) eras?

Of course, this was a true revolutionary period during which the music played a large part in giving voice to millions throughout the world who could “feel” but not always express their inner thoughts. It was in a sense something like the original facebook, socially, since it “got through” where other means of communication didn’t. Dictators couldn’t stop it; it got through the Iron and Bamboo curtains. The music and the imagery of these albums immediately and indelibly provides a powerful historic and sociological connection to that disruptive period in our culture. The world changed, forever during that time.

Why did you decided to include the Clapton guitar in the exhibit?

It isn’t actually displayed since it’s not album-related directly, but due to its unique importance we did include it in our catalog. It is the very guitar that Eric played when Cream was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and which he used throughout his famed “24 Nights” concerts at Royal Albert Hall. It was originally acquired by one our clients in the 2004 auction when Eric was raising money for his Crossroad Rehab center in the Caribbean. He collaborated with Fender in its design over a two-year period in order to replace his famous “Blackie” guitar which was retired in 1988. The Clapton Signature series of guitars were created in its image.

If you could own one of these pieces, which would it be? 

From a pure value point of view, it would be the Dark Side of the Moon originals, by far the most valuable of all original rock artwork. But, I’d sure love to have that Abbey Road set stretched across my living room as well!

Anything else you want to highlight about the exhibit?

It continues through October. It’s truly an epic exhibition which could never be replicated. For anyone who is greatly inspired by the music and those who created it, this is without the slightest exaggeration a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the royalty of the art of rock and roll in one place. A museum quality collection which can be acquired.

Can people make a purchase online/over the phone (that is, not in person)?

Absolutely, the gallery has clients from all over the world who purchase via telephone, email, website. Payments via credit card, bank wire, check are all accepted.

Info:, (415) 441-8840.