maandag 18 april 2016

Autobiography The Artist as Collector Sol LeWitt Conceptual Artist Book Photography

Autobiography Sol Lewitt 1980

New York and Boston: Multiples, Inc. and Lois and Michael K. Torf, 1980. First edition. Paperback. Very Good +. 10" square paperbound volume. First edition of this wonderful artist book created by Lewitt by photographing every item in the artist's Manhattan loft. Cited in Parr & Badger Vol. 2, The Open Book etc as a hugely influential photobook as well as a conceptual artist book.

“Autobiography” published by Multiples and Lois and Michael Torf, New York and Boston in 1980. Adam Weinberg in his excellent critique on the book entitled, “LeWitt’s Autobiography: Inventory to the Present” wrote, “When published, “Autobiography” was one of LeWitt’s eighteen “artist books” and one of six photography books. ..These books are no less profound than “Autobiography”, but “Autobiography” is a more complex, ambitious, and in some respects, intimate project…In “Autobiography” LeWitt presents more than a thousand black-and-white images in grids, generally nine to a page. The artist catalogues virtually every corner, crevice, and item in his loft. We see an aggregate of unposed images – the bare facts of his everyday existence.  We investigate each image, but the significance of this autobiography derives from the connection between images on a page, on a spread, and from page to page, as much as from any individual picture… LeWitt’s artist books situate themselves among dozens of the artist’s structures, wall drawings, drawings, and prints. For LeWitt, none of these works or media occupies a privileged position. Each work is a part of a chain of artistic production. Every work is part of a nonhierarchical whole. Thus, contradictorily, LeWitt’s “Autobiography” purports to be just another work, yet its special significance is undeniable. ..In “Autobiography”, Lewitt presents the life of the artist as the life of a particular person, in a particular culture, at a particular time and place. Nevertheless, “Autobiography” is unique in his oeuvre. For LeWitt, whose drawings, wall drawings, and structures are seemingly so pure and pared down, “Autobiography is an unparalleled work. While it takes its place as one work among “equals,” it is singular in its demonstration that LeWitts’s abstract, geometric forms are inextricable from the experience of his life and culture.”

image: 'Autobiography' 1980 photo-lithography Collection of the National Gallery
'Autobiography' 1980 photo-lithographyCollection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge
The 1960s witnessed a proliferation of alternative art forms, including the artist’s book, which set out to challenge the historically privileged status of painting and sculpture. An artist’s book is a book as art, authored or conceived by the artist as a vehicle for his or her ideas.1
The emergence of the artist’s book was fuelled by the political and socio-economic climate and facilitated by developments in commercial printing, which presented artists with the opportunity to produce relatively inexpensive books in large editions as a democratic means of disseminating their art practice to a wider audience. What is characteristic of this type of artist’s book is that it challenges the preciousness of the unique work of art and, at glance, is often indistinguishable from the mass-produced commercial publications from which it draws impetus.
Since the mid-1960s, Sol LeWitt has been one of the most important and enduring exponents of the artist’s book. His books are inseparable from his output in other media, such as wall drawings, three-dimensional structures, or prints, and are not ‘spin-offs’ of LeWitt’s ‘real’ art.2 It could be argued that the intrinsic nature of the book, coupled with the convention of reading from cover to cover, makes the book the ideal medium for LeWitt’s serial systems.
One of the artist’s earliest projects was instigated by the conceptual art dealer and publisher Seth Siegelaub who, in 1968 with John W. Wendler, published Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Lawrence Weiner, generally known as The xerox book. The seven artists were asked to provide 25 pages each. LeWitt’s contribution was xeroxed copies, or photocopies, illustrating the pen and ink work, Drawing series IA 1–24 1968, in which a series of line drawings is derived from combinations of numbers 1,2,3 and 4.
Whereas LeWitt’s Drawing series IA 1–24 in The xerox book is no more than a tentative chapter in a collaborative work, his Four basic kinds of straight lines 1969, published by Studio International in London, is a classic autonomous artist’s book. It is a flimsy, softcover, staple-bound book. The first page presents the four basic kinds of straight lines: vertical, horizontal, diagonal from lower left to upper right, diagonal from upper left to lower right, then all possible super-imposed combinations. This ‘table of contents’ outlines the set of permutations, which is then followed though in the subsequent pages of the book as the idea merges with the medium.
image: 'Four basic kinds of straight lines ' 1969 photo-lithography Collection of the National Gallery of Australia
'Four basic kinds of straight lines ' 1969 photo-lithography Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge
LeWitt’s books have often been published in conjunction with exhibitions, such as Arcs, circles and grids 1972 for a solo show at the Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, and Incomplete open cubes 1974, published on the occasion of an early installation of the work at the John Weber Gallery in New York.3 Both books adhere to the standard format and recognisable ‘look’ that unifies LeWitt’s prodigious output.
The location of lines 1974 was published by the Lisson Gallery in London to coincide with an exhibition of wall drawings, which are works of art that are drawn directly onto a wall in accordance with written instructions provided by the artist. In the book a correlation between the textual and the visual is established on each double-page spread. The left page presents the reader with a statement that describes the location of a line on the facing page or metaphorical white wall. In the first pages there is a visual balance between the text and the line. As the reader proceeds through the book, however, the instructions become increasingly verbose and tedious. It is a book that is not finished when the reader reaches the last page, but rather when they realise the futility of the process.
In the late 1970s LeWitt produced two books, both called, in short, Color grids. The first, subtitled Grids, using straight, not-straight and broken lines in yellow, red & blue and all their combinations, was printed at Crown Point Press in Oakland, California, and published by Parasol Press in New York in 1975. The second, which explores a similar proposition, Color grids: all vertical and horizontal combinations of black, yellow, red and blue straight, not-straight and broken lines, was published by Multiples in New York in 1977.
The first, Color grids 1975, is a finely printed book, containing 45 etchings for 45 possible combinations, in a limited edition of 10 with seven artist’s proofs, each signed and numbered by the artist. The second book,Color grids 1977, in contrast, is mass produced, with the introduction of black increasing the number of combinations from 45 to 78. More significantly though, the use of blue, red, yellow and black in Color grids 1977 is an explicit acknowledgment of the four-colour printing process underlying commercial offset litho-graphy. As the titles suggest, there is a schematic affinity between both Color grids, yet in material form they represent very different genres of the book.
image: 'Blue background with yellow outer lines and blue inner lines 1988 photo-lithography Collection of the National Gallery
'Blue background with yellow outer lines and blue inner lines' 1988 photo-lithography Collection of the National Gallery of Australia click to enlarge
Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic studies of human and animal locomotion were a catalyst for LeWitt’s investigation of serial systems. The debt is made explicit in Schematic drawing for Muybridge II, 1964 1969, and evident in LeWitt’s photographic books from the late 1970s. Brick wall 1977, for example, contains 30 black and white photographs of, as the title suggests, a brick wall. The assumption made by the viewer is that it has been photographed at regular intervals during the day from dawn to dusk, although, the gradual light changes seem artificial and more reminiscent of the predetermined tonal progression in Four basic kinds of straight lines.
Autobiography 1980 is LeWitt’s most widely discussed artist’s book.4 It is an album of black and white photographs taken by the artist of his New York city loft, arranged in a familiar grid-like format of nine images to a page. There are snapshots of the floor, windows, ceiling, doors, light fittings, plants, the artist’s library, a visual chronology of his work. Autobiography is an exhaustive record of the artist’s material possessions, yet the mundane nature of so many of the items seems to strip the artist’s studio of its sanctity and mystery. If the reader is not familiar with LeWitt’s biography, the ephemeral fragments and often subtle references to the artist’s life and career are ironically meaningless.
LeWitt has utilised the book as a vehicle for his ideas and as an alternative space in which to exhibit his work to a wider audience. They encapsulate the artist’s creative process, as well as address the broader issues crucial to the evolution of the artist’s book since the mid-1960s. Sol LeWitt’s artist’s books are exemplary books as art.
Steven Tonkin
notes 1 See Clive Phillpot, ‘Books by artists and books as art’, in Cornelia Lauf and Clive Phillpot, Artist/author: contemporary artists’ books, New York: Distributed Art Publishers Inc., 1999, pp 31–33, for a discussion of the artist’s book as idea and form; see Joanna Drucker, The century of artists’ books, New York: Granary Books, 1995, pp 1–19 2 Lucy Lippard, ‘The structures, the structures and the wall drawings, the structures and the wall drawings and the books’, in Sol LeWitt, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978, pp 27-28 3 Considered one of the artist’s most important works, Incomplete open cubes has been the subject of a recent exhibition and catalogue; Nicholaus Baume (ed), with essays by Nicholas Baume, Jonathan Flatley and Pamela M. Lee, Sol LeWitt: Incomplete open cubes, Hartford, Connecticut: The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2001 4See most recently, Adam D. Weinberg, ‘LeWitt’s Autobiography: Inventory to the present’, in, Gary Garrels (ed), with essays by Martin Friedman et al., Sol LeWitt, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, pp 100-108

Sol LeWitt The artist as collector
Sol LeWitt: The artist as collector

Sol LeWitt’s widow Carol speaks to Lydia Lee, curator of the Magnificent Obsessions exhibition at Barbican, about his lifelong fascination for collecting

The American artist Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), who was a key proponent of both Minimalism and Conceptual art, built an extensive collection of works by his contemporaries, including Hanne Darboven, Dan Flavin, Eva Hesse, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman, among many others.

LeWitt collected in other areas, including Japanese woodblock prints and hand-coloured tourist photographs, modernist photography and scores by composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Lydia Yee: Do you know when, where and how Sol first began collecting?

Carol LeWitt: He started collecting stamps when he was eight years old. He became an obsessive collector of block of four stamps. I even have a little note he wrote to someone in Shanghai saying, ‘I am a collector, can you please send me something with such and such a stamp on it?’

Some of the musical scores in his collection are from people like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Alvin Lucier. I can imagine that he felt an affinity with his own work, the serial nature of that kind of music.

He would often say that everything he learned about serial art he learned in two ways: from Bach’s fugues, because that was a perfect serial system, and from Dan Flavin. Flavin’s ideas on seriality were enormously important to Sol, and he would always talk about that and always credit him.

Sol LeWitt, Autobiography, 1980. LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut USA © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015. Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

Do you have any interesting anecdotes about any acquisitions that he made?

Sometimes he would buy things that we couldn’t afford. He would just find a way to make it work. I remember he saw a Richter show of candle paintings, at Sperone Westwater Fischer in the 1980s, and if he could then he would have bought the whole show. He did buy a painting. It was $10,000 at the time and a tremendous amount of money for us.

But an incredible investment now if you look at it. But I’m sure that’s not what he was thinking.

That never would have occurred to him. He always used to quote Gertrude Stein, who said a work of art is priceless or worthless.

What is the relationship between the objects in the collection and Sol’s own work? Was he looking for something in the work of other artists that spoke to him and to the way he worked?

I think that because of his collecting interests, the collection went way beyond what he would have taken from his own work. I think if he had collected that way it would have been a much more refined and defined kind of collection. This was more like Sol, the great proletarian collector, everything from young people, artists that had little recognition, little value. None of that ever mattered to him.

Hirosada, Untitled, 1860s. LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut USA. Photo by Jody Dole Hirosada. Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

And when he put things up in the house, was it also with this non-hierarchical approach?

It would be a total mixed bag, with the kind of eclecticism that was part of everything he did. One of the other interesting things is not only did he buy art, he loved furniture. He collected Hoffmann furniture and Rietveld furniture, he made his own furniture, and he loved Umbrian antiques. So it’s a real mix.

He was ahead of his time, because now this kind of mixing has become quite fashionable, but less so 30 years ago.

Sol never thought about style. He loved comfort, so his spaces were always very personal and filled with books and colour. That was one of the things he started to do when we first renovated the house in the mid-1980s — it was sort of cool colours, white and maybe a light grey. He decided to paint the house up. He started by painting the central hallway of this federal house a kind of brown. I remember once saying, ‘Brown is not exactly a fashion colour, I don’t know about that’. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m one of the great colourists of the century, and I think this is the colour!’ It went on and on: we had a kitchen that was electric yellow that went into a chartreuse room with a red door. It was very personal and very eccentric.

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector runs at Barbican until 25 May, then at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich from 12 September — 24 January 2016. Extract taken from the accompanying book Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, co-published by Barbican Art Gallery and Prestel.

Main image: Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector: Sol LeWitt's collection. Barbican Art Gallery. © Peter MacDiarmid, Getty images

Geen opmerkingen: