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Giulia Ciliberto

Sixties Artists’ Books

Laboratorio di Design della Comunicazione 1 Docente: Leonardo Sonnoli UniversitĂ IUAV di Venezia a.a. 2010-2011


Contents

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Premise

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Mass Age, Mess Age Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations Royal Road Test Andy Warhol’s Index Book The Medium is the Massage I Seem To Be A Verb

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Outside The Frame Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art The Xerox Book Statements Schematic Drawings For Muybridge II Serial Project #1 Incomplete Open Cubes The Bulletin Series

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Intermedia Store Days An Anecdoted Topography of Chance [Re - Anecdoted Version] Notations 246 Little Clouds The Book of Hours and Constellations Sweethearts

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Bibliography


Preface


Sixties Artists’ Books

In The Century of Artists’ Books Johanna Drucker underlines that, although the artists’ books had already started to esabilish as a developed artform in the early 20th century, it is only in the post-war years that they became a self-sustaining and even self-defining realm of activity on an international scale: by that time, in fact, «artists began to make books as a primary or major aspect of their activity, without linking the content or form to an already estabilished agenda».1 This phenomenon reached its climax during the Sixties, expecially in the United States, where a complex stream of interlaced cultural, social and economical tensions laid the groundwork for which Ulises Carrión used to define as “the new art of making books”. 2 The following pages contain a short anthology of artist’s books and bookworks of the period, not meant to be a systematic and exhaustive analysis but intended to provide an investigation on how they reflect coeval cultural background, embodying its principles, ideals and expectations. The anthology is divided into three main chapters which are nevertheless part of the same discourse: Mass Age, Mess Age is about how artist’s book reacted to the definitive establishment of massmarket trade, reflecting on their status of mass-market items from the inside; Outside The Frame highlights Conceptual artists’ idea of the book as an alternative to institutional and elirarist mainstream art channels; lastly Intermedia presents some books from Fluxus publishing house Something Else Press, which aim was to integrate heterogeneous disciplinary fields within the book’s form. Thus considering its underlying cultural assumptions, it is possible to achieve an overall vision on the peculiar phenomenon of Sixties artists’ bookworking, in so far as «books, and thus also artist’ books, have to be placed in a cultural context. As a matter of fact, they are already placed, they exist in a cultural context […]. So, making artist’ books is not primarily dealing with aesthetics but with cultural policies». 3

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Preface

1

Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artist’s Books, Granary Books, New York, NY, 1995, pp. 70 - 71.

2

Ulises Carrión, Quant aux livres - On Books, Héros Limite, Geneva, 1997, pp. 129 - 149.

3

Ulises Carrión, op. cit., pp. 176 - 177.

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Mass Age, Mess Age


Sixties Artists’ Books

The Sixties were an era of deep social, political and economical settlements, in which mass market became a mature and globally instituzionalized form of trade defined by its own rules of production and distribution. Within the publishing field, a huge increase in paperback production occurred, starting from the post-war period thanks to technologies and modes of industrial reproduction developed during the wartime as, for instance, lamination and four colour printing; this allowed books to be disseminated across social classes previously not considered from publishing industries and book traders. Some artist’s books of the time dealt with such matters questioning their status of commodities, proposing and strenghtening the idea of mass-produced object as a “democratic” multiple with all that this phrase implies. 1 In fact, as catalysts of cultural paradigms, artist’s books reflected on new bookmaking and bookselling models risen within mass-market trade, often taking advantage of them in their developing. Quite obviously, most of these reflections came out from the art world: Edward Ruscha’s TwentySix Gasoline Stations for example, which is considered as a founding instance of artist’s bookmaking, dealt with the dimension of mass-market more than it could seem at first sight. During a trip across Europe, in 1961, Ruscha had been particularly impressed by the non commercial look of books sold for sale in little bookstalls along the street, by their «strange kind of sober design including the typography and the binding and everything». 2 One year later, in 1962, he produced Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, a book of exactly what its title suggests, containing black and white photographs of 26 different gasoline stations situated by the way from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City, with short captions indicating their brand and location. Undoubtly Rus-

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cha’s work concurred to develop the idea of the book as a vehicle for an art work, and as an artform itself. Combining «the literalness of early California Pop art with a flatfooted photographic aesthetic informed by minimalist notions of repetitive sequence and seriality» 3 and producing a photographic work whose images were not “arty” in any sense of the word, Ruscha was criticizing «the photographic landscape of highly aestheticized image-making». 4 But the most groundbreaking aspect of his work was about crosstrade publishing: Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, although self-produced and self-published, was done with inexpensive methods of reproduction, and therefore very plain and cheap, features which were in contrast with the idea of the luxury hand-printed livre d’artiste developed during the first half of 20th century as an extension of other visual markets expanded by industrial growth, as those for painting, drawing and sculpture; «here was a book - primarily visual, comprising nondescript photos of gas stations, assembled by a visual artist, printed carefully but not slickly and susceptible to reprinting - that could slip into any bookstore, or pocket, and be marketed like any other paperback».5 Hence on the one hand Ruscha was rejecting a specific kind of luxury market, on the other hand he was coming closer to the emerging idea of book as a mass-market item: inexpensive, cheap and made to circulate widely. Ruscha’s involvement with mass-produced object comes into sight also in his later books, when he started defining himself as the “the Henry Ford of bookmaking” 6 and declaring that «photography is dead as a fine art; its only place is in the commercial world, for technical and information purposes.» 7 His 1967 Royal Road Test is exactly about this: realized in cooperation with Mason Williams and Patrick Blackwell, this picture-book story spoofs industrial methods of documenting en-

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Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations cm 19 x 15.5 pp. [48]


Mass Age, Mess Age

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Royal Road Test cm 24 x 16, pp. [48]


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durance testings within large-scale productions and stresses photography’s capability of turning out technical data and scientific proofs. The book acts as the report of an experiment consisting in throwing a Royal manual typewriter out of a 1963 Buick traveling at ninety miles per hour, and ends with an examination of experiment’s results with the wreckage of the typewriter strewn over many square yards. Still in 1967 the leading Pop artist Andy Warhol produced another book reflecting on its condition of both an art object and a market item. The iconic Andy Warhol’s Index Book, hereinafter defined as a “children’s book from hipsters”, was realized with assistance and contribution from some other important artists of the time, as Billy Name, Stephen Shore, Paul Morrissey, Ondine and Nico. The book investigates the psychedelic era in New York through a compilation of interviews, photographs, description of life at the Factory and heterogeneous art inserts as, for instance, a pop-up Hines Tomato Paste can, a pop-up castle, a folded geodesic dome, a paper accordion, a paper disc with “The Chelsea Girls”, and a 45 R.P.M. flexi-disc with portrait of Lou Reed, playing an otherwise unrecorded song by Nico and the Velvet Underground. Warhol’s Index wasn’t, as Ruscha’s books, close to the idea of paperback editions, feeling more like a structural questioning of the book’s form; however, in spite of its highly experimental taste, it was published by one of the largest English-language book traders and publishers in the world, Random House, fact which fully underlines the ambiguities between art practice and mass-production. In fact, «very much a trade publication, Warhol’s work was both commodity and investigation of commodity, […] intruding this unwanted status in the realm of the book just as abruptly as the cans of vegetables intrude into the seamless glamour images of its pages». 8

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Andy Warhol’s Index Book cm 28.0 x 21.5, pp. [72]


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Mass Age, Mess Age

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Sixties Artists’ Books

These were works from artists, but it has to be considered that other coeval bookworks reflecting on pop and mass culture lie outside artistic production, coming from other disciplinary fields such as graphic design, sociology and the right then rising communication theories. The work of Marshall McLuhan is paradigmatic in this sense: from the early 50’s, McLuhan started analyzing mass society contexts and features through series of very experimental and provocative publications, as 1951 The Mechanical Bride: Folklore Of The Industrial Man and 1954 mimeographed zine Counterblast, where images and experimental typography played a leading role and the linearity of average books was abandoned in favour of a “mosaic” approach emphasizing discontinuity of sources and informations. McLuhan theorized the role of old and new media, and of the book’s form in particular, in shaping modern culture and society; in 1962 he wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making Of Typographic Man, which analyzes the effects of the printing press on western culture and consciousness from Renaissance to contemporary era; in 1964 was the turn of Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man, advancing that «societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication» - theory commonly synthesized in the claim “the medium is the message”. 9 Understanding Media put also forward the concept of “Global Village”, referring to the idea that mass comunication had allowed and determined a worldwide village-like mindset. These texts are pioneering works in the fields of media theory and cultural studies, and met great success since their early circulation; however, their reception and popularity were boosted by the publication, in 1967, of the paperback volume named The Medium Is The Massage: An Inventory Of Effects, consisting in an

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effort to visually translate McLuhan’s major theories to give them a more popular form. The book resulted from a cooperation between McLuhan, the book-packager Jerome Agel and the well affirmed graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and represents both a landmark in the integration of text, image and layout and a contribution in blurring the professional, commercial and formal distinction that constituted the hierarchies of publishing. 10 The Medium met such popularity that was quickly reprinted and translated in five languages, becoming by far McLuhan’s best-known publication (fact that he found quite irritating, actually). In his visual revise of McLuhan’s theories, Quentin Fiore availed himself of models and strategies offered by modern commercial publishing, such as stock photography archives, and borrowed design and composition methods from art, poetry, literature and many other sources. As a result, «the most striking aspect of The Medium is the way it explores the space of the book as part of its content. The images could be read differently according to scale and juxtaposition to other images and words. Fiore’s layout destabilize the traditional hierarchy of image and caption, text and illustration». 11 The Medium wasn’t Fiore’s only experience in the field of communication theories: in 1968 he co-worked again with McLuhan in another paperback book, called War And Peace In The Global Village, consisting in a collage of thoughts about ravages of war and violence, generational divisions and “new tribalism” risen in the electronic age. Then, in 1970, Fiore realized a further paperback in cooperation with another major figure of the time, the engineer and system theorist Richard Buckminster Fuller, reaching even more public approval than with the previous works. I Seem To Be A Verb is an outwardly caothic visual and textual anthology which, focusing on environment rather than media,

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The Medium Is The Massage cm 18 x 15.5, pp. [160]


Mass Age, Mess Age

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Mass Age, Mess Age

gathers excerpts from the most various and diverse sources - such as comics, advertising, paintings, scientific publications, newspaper clippings and quotes from 20th century’s most eminent authors - presenting them in a continuous and uninterrupted way. The first spreads of the book have a vertical orientation, but the other pages are divided along a central axis and can be read from both the top and the bottom, with the lower half printed in green ink; a quote from Fuller runs across the center of each spread, looping back and continuing in the opposite direction when reaching the end of the book. 12 I Seem To Be A Verb is basically a metaphor of complex patterns and processes which regulate human life in the contemporary era, becoming more and more whirlingly an organization of regenerative principles frequently manifest as energy systems of which all our experiences, and possible experiences, are only local instances.13 Just as previously cited bookworks, each one through different methods and with specific aims, I Seem To Be A Verb is a critical reflection on its era and an experiment in dealing with contemporary issues from within. Those books are, in short terms, mass-age items questioning and problematizing mass-age itself through its own tools and forms.

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I Seem To Be A Verb cm 18 x 15.5, pp. [192]


Mass Age, Mess Age

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1

Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artist’s Books, Granary Books, New York, NY, 1995, p. 69.

2

Edward Ruscha quoted in Siri Engberg, Clive Phillpot, Edward Ruscha: Editions 1959-1999 / Catalogue Raisonné, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1999, p. 59.

3

Johanna Drucker, op. cit., p. 76.

4

Ibidem.

5

Siri Engberg, Clive Phillpot, op. cit., p. 67.

6

Edward Ruscha, Leave Any Information At The Signal, October Books, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002, p. 28.

7

Edward Ruscha quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972... / edited and annotated by Lucy R. Lippard, University of California Press, Berkeley e Los Angeles, CA, 2001, p. 12.

8

Johanna Drucker, op. cit., p. 154.

9

Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory Of Effects, Bantam Books, New York, NY, 1967, p. 8.

10

Ellen Lupton, Design Writing Research, Phaidon Press, London, 1999, p.93.

11

Ibidem.

12

Ellen Lupton, op. cit., p. 97.

13

Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jerome Agel, Quentin Fiore, I Seem To Be A Verb, Bantam Books, New York, NY, 1970, p. 5.

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Outside The Frame


Sixties Artists’ Books

Sixties international avant-garde, and particularly North American Conceptual art, was aimed at revealing and challenging the institutional art system with its own mythologies, establishments and distribution channels. Pursuing a path undertaken by pre-war european avant-gardes, Conceptual artists questioned the fundamental instances of western art such as the authenticity of the artwork and the nature of representation; focusing their research on where and what art itself was supposed to be, they defined a series of theories considering the concept and the idea paramount over physical, material and sensory matters. Within such a “dematerializing” approach, a tension between the art practice and the structural space of books and multiples arised, opening new possibilities for both producing and showing artworks themselves. Exhibitions presenting artworks in the shape of books started to take place, becoming a preferencial medium to counter the conservative and backward-looking “frame and pedestal syndrome” 1 in which mid-century art world was still tangled up. In 1966 Mel Bochner, a young instructor and researcher at the New York School of Art, was charged to curate a Christmas exhibition to take place in one of the school’s galleries. Bochner photocopied drawings, work notes and preparatory sketches from various artists’ s major projects and collected them in four identical binders displayed on white parallelepipeds set in the centre of an empty room: the volumes formed at the same time the work, its project and the tools for a critical understanding of it. Thus Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not NecessariIy Meant to be Viewed as Art is a bedrock in art history, cited as the first Conceptual art exhibition. Combining the minimalist practice of serial and modular techniques with the latest technology of mechanical reprodution, Bochner

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Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art


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Outside The Frame

invented the Xerox Book format, a hallmark of late Sixties Conceptualism, 2 bearing the idea of the visual work as a riproducible item. During the following years the Xerox Book became a strategy to bypass institutional art spaces, such as museum and galleries, representing an exhibition space itself. In 1968 Seth Siegelaub deeply reinvented the instances of curating and art dealing producing the Xerox Book, the first group show in the shape of a book. Seven artist took part to the project - Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris and Lawrence Weiner - each one disposing on twenty-five blank pages to fill with whatever they pleased making use of the xeroxmachine process. Siegelaub tryed to «standardize the conditions of exhibition with the idea that the resulting differences in each artist’s project or work would be precisely what the artist’s work was about. It was an attempt to consciously standardize, in terms of an exhibition, book, or project, the conditions of production underlying the exhibition process». 3 Siegelaub also produced Statements, Lawrence Wiener’s 1968 foundational book, a series of 25 scores for making sculptures typewrited one per page on plain sheets of paper. They were divided into 12 “General Statements” and 13 “Specific Statements”. The book was printed in 1000 paperback copies and sold for $ 1.95. The statements were an attempt to question and ratify the nature of art itself: in fact, Weiner had realized that art was no longer a matter of practical skills and material execution, evolving from the making of objects to the relationships between humans and objects through the statements he produced. This was a clearly revolutionary issue, while overcoming at a single stroke the historical benchmarks of authorship and ownership.

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The Xerox Book cm 27.5 x 20.5, pp. [370]


Outside The Frame

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Statements cm 17.8 x 10.1, pp. [64]


Outside The Frame

General Statements A field cratered by structured simultaneous TNT explosions A removal of an amount of earth from the ground / The intrusion into this hole of a standard processed material One sheet of plywood secured to the floor or wall One regular rectangular object placed across an international boundary allowed to rest then turned to and turned upon to intrude the portion of one country into the other A removal to the lathing or support wall of plaster or wall board of a wall One standard dye maker thrown into the sea A piece of masonite painted allowed to dry sanded for a certain time elapsure with a standard flat finishing sander and secured to the wall or floor One sheet of transparent plastic secured to the floor or wall A rectangular canvas and stretcher support with a rectangular removal from one of the four corners sprayed with paint for a time elapsure Common steel nails driven into the floor at points designated at time of installation An amount of paint poured directly upon the floor and allowed to dry A series of stakes set in the ground at regular intervals to form a rectangle twine strung from stake to stake to demark a grid

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Specific Statements Two sheets of standard 8-1/2” X 11” typing paper bonded at equal distance from on either side of the white line of the Los Angeles freeway / The utilization of a broken double or otherwise line in no way alters the intent Three minutes of forty-pound pressure spray of white highway paint upon a well-tended lawn / The lawn is allowed to grow and not tended until the grass is free of all vestiges of white highway paint One sheet of clear Plexiglas of arbitrary size and thickness secured at the four corners and exact centre by screws to the floor One square limestone slab of arbitrary thickness One sheet of brown wrapping paper bonded even with the edge to the top surface of the limestone One hole in the ground approximately one foot by one foot by one foot / One-gallon water base white paint poured into this hole Four strips of linoleum of arbitrary width cemented to the floor edge to edge with the forth strip one width shorter than the preceding three One aerosol can of enamel sprayed to conclusion directly upon the floor One standard interior grade sheet four foot by eight foot by three quarter inch plywood secured at the four corners and exact centre by screws to the wall One-quart exterior green enamel thrown on a brick wall A sheet of brown paper of arbitrary width and length of twice that width with a removal of the same proportions glued to the floor A 2” wide 1” deep trench cut across a standard one-car driveway One 106” X 16” slab of “Dow HD300” Styrofoam sunk flush with the ground

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Later in 1968, Weiner worked out his Declaration of intents, «a stipulation for ownership (or for avoiding ownership)» 4 that would accompany all of his works during the following years: 1.The artist may construct the piece. 2.The piece may be fabricated. 3.The piece need not to be built. Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist, the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership. Since the pieces Weiner describes should not necessarily be realized, Statements can be considered as an artwork and as a virtual exhibition of artworks at the same time: a real manifesto of Conceptual art, underlying the ongoing shift in referential frames “from the studio in a study” and from the space of events to the space of statements. 5 In 1967 Sol LeWitt published the most important theoretical contribution to Conceptualism, the Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, where he declared that «what the work of art looks like isn’t too important. [...] No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned». 6 LeWitt’s research was basically centered on serial systems, progressions and permutations functioning as a narrative that has to be understood. The source of most this kind of studies were the pioneering experiments on motion and progression carried out by the photographer and bookseller Eadweard J. Muybridge during late 19th century, to whom LeWitt payed homage with his 1966 mul-

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tiple Schematic Drawings For Muybridge II. Admittedly referring to someone else’s work, the Schematic Drawings embodied LeWitt’s ideal of a «more objective method of organization as a reaction against the idea that art was composed with great sensitivity by the artist» and proposed «the notion of the artist as a thinker rather than a craftsman. Others, perhaps more able, could carry out the artist’s design». 7 Since the mid-Sixties, LeWitt employed the book as a space for developing his serial works, parallel with the construction of three-dimensional artworks. In 1967 he realized a small book to explain the principles underlying his Serial Project #1 1966, an aluminium structure exhibited at MoMA exploring the possibilities of the square from which the artist derived grids, cubes, and rectangular prisms. Providing a critical examination of the physical work, the book represents an integral part of it and eventually a work of art in its own rights. «Serial compositions are multipart pieces with regulated changes. The differences between the parts are the subject of the composition. The series would be read by the viewer in a linear or narrative manner […] even though in its final form many of these sets would be operating simultaneously, making comprehension difficult». 8 His 1974 Incomplete Open Cubes as well exemplifies the deployment of a single idea to become “a machine that makes art”: 9 realized in cooperation with the mathematician and physicist Erna Herrey, the book is a compendium of LeWitt’s threedimensional researches on the structure of the cube, showed through photographs and isometric drawings: «the series started with three-part pieces because a cube implies three dimensions and, of course, ends with one eleven-part piece (one bar removed). In this case, if one understands

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Schematic Drawings For Muybridge II cm 14 x 31.5, single sheet in an envelope


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Serial Project # 1 1966 cm 20 x 20, pp. [12]


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Incomplete Open Cubes cm 20.5 x 20.5, pp. [264]


Outside The Frame

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the idea of a cube one may mentally reconstruct the cube, filling in the missing parts. The book that is part of the piece works in conjunction with the three dimensional forms. 10 During the same years, such tendencies started to arise also outside North American boundaries, testifying how Conceptual art was becoming an international and worldwide-grounded movement. Between 1968 and 1989 the Amsterdam-based gallery Art & Project published a series of 156 Bulletins as a mean to explore ways in which art, architecture and technology could combine in a new and original form. Each Bulletin consisted in a half-folded sheet with a work from a Conceptual artist, printed in about 800 copies per issue and sent to a mailing list of artists, curators and gallerists resident all over the world. Many international artists of the time - as Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, John Baldessari, Hamish Fulton and so on took part to the project producing one or more Bulletins. Beyond its archival value, the Bulletin series represents one of the most inherently Conceptual attempts of conveying ideas from the artist to the public. Produced with a very low budget and distributed for free, the Bulletins didn’t have a value except for the ideas they contained, which were organized in a sequence chosen by the artist yet readable in whatever order the receiver pleased. Through the Bulletin series, Art & Project was promoting a low-budget and democratic idea of the book as an artwork easily suitable for anyone, deeply setting against the basic principles of elitist and institutional mainstream art.

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Bulletin 43 (Sol LeWitt, 1971) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet


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Bulletin 88 (Sol LeWitt, 1975) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet


Outside The Frame

Bulletin 35 (Richard Long, 1971) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet Bulletin 39 (Douglas Huebler, 1971) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet


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Bulletin 41 (John Baldessari, 1971) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet Bulletin 52 (Hamish Fulton, 1972) cm 30 x 21, folded sheet


Outside The Frame

1

Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972... / edited and annotated by Lucy R. Lippard, University of California Press, Berkeley e Los Angeles, CA, 2001, p. VIII.

2

James Meyer, Bochner’s Measurement Series, “The Art Section”, http://zoolander52.tripod.com/theartsection3.5/id1.html, last access: September 2011.

3

Seth Siegelaub, excerpt from a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Xerox Book, “Paris, La”, http://www.paris-la.com/3948, last access: September 2011.

4

Lucy R. Lippard, op. cit., p. XVII.

5

Lucy R. Lippard, op. cit., p. X.

6

Sol LeWitt quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, op.cit., p. 29.

7

Sol Lewitt quoted in Giorgio Maffei, Emanuele De Donno, Sol LeWitt-Artist’s Books, Corraini, Mantova, 2010, p. 39.

8

Sol Lewitt quoted in Giorgio Maffei, Emanuele De Donno, op.cit., p. 28.

9

Sol LeWitt quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, op.cit., p. 28.

10

Sol Lewitt quoted in Giorgio Maffei, Emanuele De Donno, op.cit., p. 51.

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Intermedia


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The international Fluxus avant-garde, as essentially aimed at the mutual integration between every contemporary media, employed the bookwork as one of its most fruitful channels of expression. In fact, more than anybody else, Fluxus artists questioned the identity of the book underlying its receptiveness to encompass every other art practice, from visual arts to music passing through literature, poetry, performances and graphic design. To this end the poet and composer Dick Higgins, one of the leading Fluxus artists, coined the term “intermedia”; it was intended to define a practical and theoretical approach grounded on the dialectic among the several media with which the artist of the time, and contemporary people at large, was necessarily given to confront himself with. As Higgins declared in 1966, «due to the spread of mass literacy, to television and the transistor radio, our sensitivities have changed […]. For the last ten years or so, artists have changed their media to suit this situation, to the point where the media have broken down in their traditional forms, and have become merely puristic points of reference. The idea has arisen, as if by spontaneous combustion throughout the entire world, that these points are arbitrary and only useful as critical tools, in saying that such-andsuch a work is basically musical, but also poetry. This is the intermedial approach [...]. We must find the ways to say what has to be said in the light of our new means of communicating. For this we will need new rostrums, organizations, criteria, sources of information». 1 Higgins thought that the book was the intermedial form par excellence, the form in which physical and conceptual dimension all contemporary modes of art could be combined in a intrinsic and characteristically new way. In 1963 he founded a New York based publishing house, the Something Else Press, which during the following decade played a main role in the field of art-

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ist’s bookworking and experimental writing: till its closing in 1974, the Something Else Press collected and published many among Fluxus’ foundational artist’s books together with contributions from other 20th century pivotal authors as, just to mention a few, Gertrude Stein, Marshall McLuhan and Charles McIlvaine. Something Else Press’s publications are extremely eclectic and diverse; besides reflecting Higgins’s belief that a compartmentalized approach to the arts and their separation into rigid categories had nowadays become absolutely irrelevant, 2 they cast light on the main instances of Fluxus art theories and practices. Some of them rise from the idea of the ready-made or found object which, in Higgin’s words, is «in a sense an intermedium since it was not intended to conform to the pure medium [...], and therefore suggests a location in the field between the general area of art media and those of life media». 3 For example Claes Oldenburg’s 1968 Store Days, realized in cooperation with the poet and visual artist Emmett Williams, is a selection of texts, graphic materials, drawings and photos from the New York experience of The Store, a space for both selling and exhibiting art which Oldenburg opened and managed during the two year period of 1961-1962. In 1962 The Store was converted into the Ray Gun Theater where, during a period of ten weeks, each weekend a cycle of wordless “plays” was given with a volunteer cast. Thus Store Days, plainly reporting raw working materials from this monument of early Sixties New York art, collects its heterogeneous remainings and works not much as a catalogue but rather as the evocation of a seminal moment. Such emphasis on chance and indeterminancy is even more evident in another Something Else Press’s publication, said by many to be one of the most important and entertaining bookwork of post-war era. The

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Store Days cm 28.5 x 21.5, pp. [152]


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book, An Anecdoted Topography Of Chance from Daniel Spoerri, is actually part of a broader project began some years earlier with a small book called Topographie Anécdotée* du Hasard. In 1961 Spoerri was living in Paris at the Hotel Carcassonne; on October 17, he drew a map reporting the overlapping outlines of all the 80 objects lying on his table at exactly 3.47 p.m. The artist assigned each object a number, and wrote a brief description including the memories it evoked and its relations with the other objects on the table. The Topographie was printed as a small pamphlet of 53 pages plus a fold-out map of the outlined objects on the table. In 1966 the Something Else Press published An Anecdoted Topography Of Chance [Re - Anecdoted Version], English translation of the Topographie edited by Emmett Williams, enhanced with new contents such as additional notes from Spoerri, Williams and others and sketches of each object from Roland Topor. In 1968 the Topographie was further translated in German language by Dieter Roth and published as Anekdoten zu einer Topographie des Zufalls; Roth also contributed adding his own poetic annotations, which increased the original volume of the book by almost a third. The Topographie provides a fascinating insight into Spoerri’s life, travels, thoughts and friends. In 1966 English edition, Spoerri defines his work as a «topography based on chance and disorder» 4 and even suggests to try it as a game, choosing a shape on the map and looking up to the corresponding numbered paragraph on the text. John Cage’s anthology Notations, published by the Something Else Press in 1969, issues from some of the most rooted Fluxus instances, such the emphasis on process, the idea of the score as an artwork itself, the composition method determined by chance. Notations illustrates a collection

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An Anecdoted Topography of Chance [Re - Anecdoted Version] cm 20 x 13.8, pp. [214]


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Notations cm 22 x 21, pp. [320]


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of manuscript scores from 269 contemporary composers. As Cage explains in the book’s preface, «the manuscripts are not arranged according to kinds of music, but alphabetically according to the composer’s name. The text for the book is the result of a process employing I-Ching operations. These determined how many words regarding his work were to be written by or about the composers (never more than 64 words, sometimes only one) […]. Not only the number of words and the authors, but the typography too - letter size, intensity and typeface - were all determined by chance operation». 5 Cage also lists the contemporary aquarium as a reference: «no longer a dark hallway with each species in its own illuminated tank separated from others but a large glass house with all the fish in it swimming as in an ocean. 6 Other publications testify Fluxus artists’s interest in literary disciplines, expecially european-connected concrete poetry, and the aim to extend Something Else Presse’s publishing network also outside North American boundaries. In 1968 the Something Else Press published a reconstruction of 246 Little Clouds by Dieter Roth, probably the most prolific bookworker ever; the book is a collection of “clouds”, «a bright array of notes, memos and shopping lists alternating with aphorisms short poems and pastiches» which the artist used to hang on the wall, sticked on the pages with transparent adhesive tape to evoke a crowd of aristophanesque “speaking cumuli”. 7 The book of Hours and Constellations, an anthology which summarized the work of concrete poetry’s father Eugen Gomringer, was also published by the Something Else Press. The constellations were, according to Gomringer, the simplest of all possible concrete poetry structures, achieved by disposing groups of words and letters «as if they were clusters of stars». 8 According to Gomringer, «the constellation

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246 Little Clouds cm 23.5 x 15.8, pp. [176]


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is a system, it is also a playground with definite boundaries. […] With each constellation something new comes into the world. each constellation is a reality in itself and not a poem about some other thing». 9 Lastly Emmett Williams, which had lived in Europe from 1949 to 1966 and can be considered as the european Fluxus correspondent, was particularly interested in concrete poetry; his erotic poem Sweethearts is entirely composed deriving from the 11 letters of the word “sweethearts” repeated vertically 11 times to determine a perfectly squareshaped baseline grid. All the words that make the poem, as well as their position in the page, depend on their place within the word “sweethearts”, providing this way also kinetik metaphors, which «can be animated by flipping the pages fast enough to achieve a cinematic effect». Moreover, the book is intended to be read from right to left: in his preliminary, entirely lowercase and punctuationless “instructions for use”, Williams declares that «in hand to express what the poem is all about the author feels that this fusion is best achieved by beginning the book where in the West books traditionally end». 10 Ultimately, Something Else Press was a visionary and utopian attempt to collect the coeval intermedial experimentations within the book’s form: John Cage’s Notations explores the intermedia between music and philosophy, Emmett Williams’s Sweethearts the intermedia between poetry and sculpture, and so on. Concluding the first Something Else Press’s newsletter, Higgins says that «we have noted the intermedia in the theater and in the visual arts, the happening, and certain varieties of physical constructions. […] I would like to suggest that the use of intermedia is more or less universal throughout the fine arts, since continuity rather than categorization is the hallmark of our new mentality». 11

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1

Dick Higgins quoted in Kristine Stiles, Peter Selz, Theories and documents of contemporary art: a sourcebook for artists’ writing, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1997, p. 728.

2

Dick Higgins, Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia, “UbuWeb Papers”, http://www.ubu.com/papers/higgins_intermedia.html, last access: September 2011.

3

Ibidem.

4

Daniel Spoerri, An Anecdoted Topography Of Chance, [Re-Anecdoted version] Something Else Press, New York, NY, 1966, pp. XV-XVI.

5

John Cage, Notations, Something Else Press, New York, NY, 1969, p. 3.

6

Ibidem.

7

Various Authors, Dieter Roth: Books + Multiples / Catalogue Raisonné, Editions Hansjorg Mayer, London, 2004, p. 143.

8

Eugen Gomringer, The Book of Hours and Constellations, Something Else Press, New York, NY, 1969, p. 5.

9

Ibidem.

10

Emmett Williams, Sweethearts, Something Else Press, New York, NY, 1968, p. 1.

11

Dick Higgins, Synesthesia..., op. cit.

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Bibliography


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An Anecdoted Topography Of Chance [Re - Anecdoted Version] Daniel Spoerri Something Else Press, New York, 1966.

Andy Warhol’s Index Boox Andy Warhol Random House, New York, 1967

Artmix - Flussi tra arte, architettura, cinema, design, moda, musica e televisione Germano Celant Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milan, 2008

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Bibliography

The Book of Hours and Constellations Eugen Gomringer Something Else Press, New York, 1968

The Century of Artist’s Books Johanna Drucker Granary Books, New York, 1995

Counterblast Marshall McLuhan Gingko Press, Corte Madera, 2011

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Design Writing Research Ellen Lupton Phaidon Press, London, 1999

Dieter Roth: Books + Multiples / Catalogue Raisonné Various Authors Editions Hansjorg Mayer, London, 2004

Edward Ruscha: Editions 1959-1999 / Catalogue Raisonné Siri Engberg, Clive Phillpot Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1999

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Bibliography

I Seem To Be A Verb Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jerome Agel, Quentin Fiore Bantam Books, New York, 1970

Incomplete Open Cubes Sol LeWitt John Weber Gallery, New York, 1966

La parola nell’arte - Ricerche d’avanguardia nel ‘900. Dal Futurismo a oggi attraverso le collezioni del Mart Various Authors Skira, Milan and Geneva, 2007

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Leave Any Information At The Signal Edward Ruscha October Books, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2002

The Mechanical Bride - Folklore of the Industrial Man Marshall McLuhan Gingko Press, Corte Madera, 2011

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory Of Effects Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore Bantam Books, New York, 1967

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Bibliography

Notations John Cage Something Else Press, New York, 1969

Quant aux livres / On Books Ulises Carri贸n H茅ros-Limite, Geneva, 1997

Royal Road Test Edward Ruscha National Excelsior Press, Los Angeles, 1967

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Schematic Drawings For Muybridge II Sol LeWitt Multiples Inc., New York, 1964

Serial Project #1 Sol LeWitt “Aspen Magazine” no. 5 + 6, New York, 1966

Six Years: The Dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972... / edited and annotated by Lucy R. Lippard Lucy R. Lippard University of California Press, Berkeley e Los Angeles, 2001

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Bibliography

Sol LeWitt - Artist’s Books Giorgio Maffei, Emanuele De Donno Something Else Press, New York, 1969

Statements Lawrence Weiner Seth Siegelaub & Louis Kellner Foundation, New York, 1968

Store Days - Documents from The Store and Ray Gun Theater Claes Oldenburg, Emmett Williams Something Else Press, New York, 1967

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Theories and documents of contemporary art: a sourcebook for artists’ writing Kristine Stiles, Peter Selz University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997

Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations Edward Ruscha National Excelsior Press, Los Angeles, 1962

The Xerox Book Various Authors Seth Siegelaub & John Wendler, New York, 1968

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Text composed in: ITC Berkeley Oldstyle Std Book ITC Berkeley Oldstyle Std Medium Printed in September 2011

Sixties Artists Books  

A short anthology of texts and images about artists’ books, and bookworks in general, produced mostly in the United States during the ’60s.

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