A Critic’s Notebook: Rutherford Chang Buys White Albums

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Life goes on for “The White Album”


  • Andrew Alexander
  • WHITE NOISE: The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center is currently exhibiting Rutherford Chang’s installation “We Buy White Albums.”

A newly installed sign above the front door of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center may come as a surprise to visitors over the next few months. Its bright red neon letters spell out: WE BUY WHITE ALBUMS.

The sign is part of an installation by New York artist Rutherford Chang. Chang does, in fact, buy copies of “The White Album,” first pressings of the 1968 Beatles album on vinyl to be exact. He has close to a thousand so far, and they’re all at the Contemporary through March 8.

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  • Andrew Alexander
  • WHITE ON WHITE: An installation view of Chang’s “We Buy White Albums.”

The release was a double album with a famously blank white cover featuring just a simple stamped serial number and an embossed title (the album’s name is technically “The Beatles,” but people have most often referred to it as “The White Album”). EMI printed about three million copies before the company stopped numbering them.

Chang is a fan of the album, but he was especially interested in the way the covers, essentially millions of blank canvases, aged with time. His installation inside the gallery displays about 100 copies on a wall, and visitors are allowed to flip through his collection in boxes, where copies of the album are arranged in order according to serial number.


  • Andrew Alexander
  • REVOLVER: On the turntable spins a copy of “The White Album” created by digitally compiling 100 copies of the famous record, all worn by time since their original pressing. The cover is a composite image of the old covers.

Any cultural artifact will start to show the changes and effects of time, but on a perfectly blank square, they’re more apparent. In fact, they quickly become the most salient visual element. Few of the albums have remained pure white: some were written on, others became coasters or sketchpads, each has a singular history.

There is also a listening station where visitors can listen to a copy of “The White Album” Chang created by layering the tracks from his first 100 copies. Every distortion, every pop, every scratch from all 100 albums is compiled into the new version. The album cover for this creation was made by overlaying the images of those 100 covers, no longer characteristically white.

The Contemporary’s Communications Manager Rachel Reese says that, yes, the organization will buy your copy of “The White Album” during the show’s run if you’re interested. There’s no formal system for the sale, but Chang instructed organizers not to pay more than $20 per copy, the most Chang has ever paid for one. If a visitor wants to sell a copy of “The White Album,” Reese says, the Contemporary will look at it and most likely purchase it

Rutherford Chang’s installation “We Buy White Albums” is part of a new exhibition at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center entitled “Coloring” which features work from Bill Adams, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Anne Lindberg, and Kate Shepherd. Also on view is “In Translation” with new work from artists Jonathan Bouknight, Ben Schonberger, and Nathan Sharratt. The works are all on view through March 8.