Anthony Ausgang's MGMT album art

By Kirsten Anderson

Mgmt Cover Nologo
In hipster history, the 1990s saw a resurgence in kitschy countercultural pastimes like swing dancing, tattoo culture, and tiki/retro lounge. At the same time, an underground art movement associated with those outre interests and born in Southern California was also catapulted into view. Fueled by the Internet, a worldwide audience emerged for art that could have otherwise stayed firmly ensconced in the murky shadows of the art world and underground culture. This new art scene was tongue-in-cheekily referred to as "Lowbrow," and it championed a sense of working class ethics and the festishization of nostalgia and countercultural imagery in a cartoony, fun manner. Anthony Ausgang is celebrated as a pioneer of Lowbrow. His tripped-out, surrealistic narratives feature cartoon characters in exaggeratedly provocative situations. Today on Boing Boing, Ausgang debuts his newest painting, an album cover for psych-rock duo MGMT's new record Congratulations, to be released on April 13 on Columbia. Ausgang's next solo show is in November at Santa Monica's CoproGallery. Last weekend, I spoke with Ausgang about Lowbrow, Pop Surrealism, and the MGMT connection.

99 Nght Of The Hunter

"Night of the Hunter" (acrylic on canvas)


Anderson: You are one of the original "Lowbrow" guys and have watched the whole arc of this movement. What are your thoughts on how the scene has evolved?

Ausgang: Lowbrow Art was originally based on a wide assortment of aesthetic insurgencies, like the surf and hotrod subculture. Many of those cultural influences are now outdated and have been replaced by more recent stimulations. For example, the major influence that Saturday morning cartoons had on Lowbrow has been replaced by the new youth culture's video and computer games. There were also certain orphaned subcultures that were initially attracted to Lowbrow as a good place to enter the Fine Art world. As time passed some of these subcultures, like Graffiti, moved away from the Lowbrow and became their own art movements.

09 The Great Escape

"The Great Escape" (acrylic on canvas)


You were just in Rome for a big Pop Surrealist exhibition called "Apocalypse Wow." What was your impression of the art scene there?

The Pop Surrealism art scene in Rome was firmly based on the Graffiti aesthetic and there was plenty of that in the streets. The cars of the subway trains were almost all completely bombed with huge pieces and even Roman ruins had been hit up. I asked one "aerosol artist" if he had a felt any hesitation the first time he wrote on a wall that was 2500 years old. He said that the ruins had been there over 2000 years and his spray paint would only be there for about 70 so he didn't feel any remorse. But most interesting thing I heard was from BO 130 who said that most kids were sick of the adoration of ancient ruins and wanted to see new, contemporary art.

Are there any new artists or scene that's currently inspiring you?

Lowbrow and Pop Surrealism are art movements firmly based on recognizable imagery and comprehendible narratives. I think that certain aspects of abstract art are going to begin influencing this dogma and there will be a new type of aesthetic brinksmanship as artists skirt the edge between abstract and representational art.

How did you get hooked up with MGMT?

I met Andrew and Ben from MGMT through the experimental musician Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 and Spectrum, for whom I had done album cover art in the past. MGMT was recording "Congratulations" at a mansion in Malibu so I went there a couple of times to hang out and watch the process unfold. Not being a musician I was occasionally left to my own devices so I would sit around and draw on pieces of paper then leave them there when I went home. I got along well with the band and gave them copies of my book, Vacation From Reality. Later, Josh Cheuse, the art director from Sony, contacted me once the recording was finished. The most important thing was that MGMT wanted the "look" of my style of painting and gave me only a few points that I had to hit. Naturally the process took some time but they were always cool with the criticisms. A lot of people who commission a painting only know what they don't want; fortunately MGMT knew what they wanted and let me do it my way.

Published 8:24 am Wed, Feb 17, 2010

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About the Author

owner of Roq La Rue Gallery, Editor At Large for Hi Fructose Magazine

11 Responses to “Anthony Ausgang's MGMT album art”

  1. Anonymous says:

    soo MGMT , i imagined something like that for congratulations , i just dont know why , i just imagined that colours, that drawings , i love them.
    guys , when i grow up , i ll be just an artist , and you can hire me whenever you like ,LOVE YOU
    Bianca Ailin From Argentina!
    (i know you Ben and Andrew personally read this ,but i dont care)

  2. Chris Coker says:

    Watching for their album too and I really appreciated their cool art covers. It really inspire to make my own..i know its that busy but its really fulfilling. | ffxiv gil

  3. Anonymous says:

    which one is it?

  4. Sketch V says:

    Check out this cool interview with Rober Williams I just made for more great info on Lowbrow art:

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=9759C7DB24A3BE1F

    Enjoy!
    Sketch V

  5. B says:

    A rose by any other name…. I love the cover piece (it blows my mind!) and think it fits MGMT’s music and aesthetic. I can’t wait to hear how it ties to the music of the newest product. As just another citizen of the planet, I’m mostly befuddled by the definitions, categorizations, and labels- though I see their importance in furthering the discussion beyond the (eye-based) subjective observation of quality. Thanks for the interview/article.

  6. yhumofafironi@gmail.com says:

    I love MGMT and always appreciated the art on their covers. I had no idea the art style started an ENTIRE art movement! I now have a new found appreciation for this style and sure it has met the standards the as new, up and coming art style in the contemporary art realm. how to make money for kids

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ausgang made also cover for Apollo400’s “Dude Descending a Staircase”.

  8. Anonymous says:

    mann. i was hoping MGMT was going to take this album seriously. the album art certainly doesn’t indicate that. oh well, hopefully it will be fun, like the last two.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wow what a great article. I love MGMT and always appreciated the art on their covers. I had no idea the art style started an ENTIRE art movement! I now have a new found appreciation for this style and sure it has met the standards the as new, up and coming art style in the contemporary art realm.

    -Maurizio Maranghi

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