I first met the band MGMT in the summer of 2009 when they came to L.A. to finish up their second album. I made several pharmaceutical visits to the mansion in Malibu where they were recording, and during one particularly psychedelic evening I drew a lot of tripped out cartoons on paper placemats, scattering them around the house. I completely forgot about the drawings so I was surprised when I was contacted by MGMT’s art director at Sony to do a painting, at the band’s request, for the cover of their new release “Congratulations”. Sony decided that the packaging would be in the grand tradition of classic interactive album cover art so half the cover was printed on a lottery ticket type of scratch off material that revealed a picture of the band when removed. I cashed the check, looking forward to seeing my art in record stores and basking in the glow of a job well done. Then, on February 17, Sony “leaked” the album cover art to Boingboing.net, almost a month before the official release date of the music. My painting and an associated interview immediately went viral and with nothing else to go on other than the cover, thousands of MGMT fans began chattering about the art… and most of them absolutely hated it.
Will Berman, the drummer for MGMT said later in an interview, “We'd just released the album cover art and people were (ticked) off about that, calling it the worst atrocity of an album cover ever.” Even on MGMT’s own website one disappointed fan started an “Ausgang’s Crappy Art” thread, although to their credit they did choose my least favorite paintings. “Good work fanboy”, I replied, “you get an A for asshole.” The bad vibes didn’t stop once the music was released either as Buddyhead.com exclaimed, “the audio part of this record sucks harder than the retarded image these losers picked to be their cover art.” And it began to get personal when someone named ROBOTA chimed in with her opinion, “the artwork sucks! reminds me of needlepoint in the 80's. i heard the artist is impotent from all the blow he did.” Thanks ROBOTA, I’d forgotten to refill my Viagra prescription.
Other reviews were less vitriolic but still unsure just what the hell was going on. According to Tusconweekly.com, “The album art is weird, a cross between rejected cover art for an early-'90s Sega Genesis game and a DayGlo surfing poster from a head shop.” Idolator.com reminisced that “the artwork for Congratulations is conjuring up memories of the days when we lugged around our, like, totally rad Trapper Keeper in fourth grade.” Needless to say I was stoked not to be associated with something only partially rad.
I realize now that the rock kids rejected my art because of its roots in the low culture of their childhood, something that I had thought they would appreciate and not vilify. The irony is that these contemporary twentysomething kids are acting as elitist as the gallery owners who refused to show Low Brow Art when it first appeared back in the 80’s. Oh well, I found out that there’s not as much distance between Low Brow and low blow as I thought.