Ruscha Redux, and more, at Brooklyn

  • Posted on Feb 22, 2011 by

While I usually have artist books on-the-brain to some degree, they’ve been on my mind more than usual lately, as I prepare a presentation to Brooklyn Museum interns and staff in early April highlighting recent acquisitions to Brooklyn’s artists' books collection. I’d like to take the opportunity to share a few of these with our readers here at the blog.

As Julie Melby stated last month in her presentation "Codex as Canvas: The Artist Altered Book" at the College Book Art Association’s 2nd Biennial Conference, “Ed Ruscha is sort of a whole genre in himself,” in terms of artist books that pay homage to or riff off of other notable artist books. Brooklyn Museum Library, which owns a number of Ruscha originals (including Various Small Fires and Milk, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Royal Road Test, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, and many more) recently acquired several works that fall into this category.

Two of these are by Eric Doeringer, currently featured in the show "I Like The Art World And The Art World Likes Me” at EFA Project space along with other artists making art about the art world. Doeringer’s has built his name as an art world “bootlegger,” with works that question authenticity and authority through painstaking duplicates of giants such as Lawrence Weiner and Sol Lewitt as well as guerilla acts, counterfeiting Art Basel VIP cards and Whitney Museum admission stickers and museum staff ID cards. His works has provoked plenty of out-cry, although Jerry Saltz says more gently of the work that it “functions like a tribute band, someone faithfully providing a genuine esthetic experience, not just a knowing scold.”

In our two new acquisitions, Doeringer re-experiences Real Estate Opportunities and Some Los Angeles Apartments, duplicating the typography and layout but updating the photographs of the sites to the geography of 2010. While many of the L.A. apartments have changed little since 1965, the “opportunities” for real estate development have been filled within the space of four decades, with most of Ruscha’s empty parking lots now filled.  Come to the Brooklyn Museum Library for the unique opportunity to see these side by side and witness time collapse in a little bit of California space.

Another incoming artist book that takes on Ruscha’s legacy splits the difference with equally formidable contemporary artist book progenitor Dieter Rot(h). Susan Porteous’ 246 Little Clouds is a metatextual commentary on Rot’s original meta-text which he created as a book containing a set of instructions for creating the book itself, by interpreting Rot’s title through the lens of Ed Ruscha’s aesthetic. The result is the polar opposite of what Tate Shaw described at the 2010 Contemporary Artist Book Conference, in an analysis of Rot’s 246 Little Clouds and its 1976 execution by Something Else Press, as a need for “deep, kabbalistic reading” commanded by the original; one can, instead, merely contemplate the simple beauty of 246 photographs of cirruses and cumulonimbi.

Another topic of great interest at the CBAA conference was Henry Pisciotta’s "The Library in Art[‘s Crosshairs]," which explores the theme of the library in artist book practice. This is a theme that, as a librarian, returns to me again and again in my encounters with the world of artists' books. Pisciotta’s discussion of works such as David Bunn’s artist books and installations utilizing discarded library catalog cards also coincided with the fact that here at the Museum we are currently engaged in redistribution at no cost of our own defunct cards to artists for their use and adaptation.  

hideous beast
Beast, Hideous [artist duo]. Leisure Library. Chicago: Hideous Beast, 2008.

While there are countless examples of library-themed artist books in our library collection, a few of our newest acquisitions deserve a mention. The first came into my hands while at the NY Art Book Fair at PS1 this past fall. Instantly drawn in by the title Leisure Library, I found myself in a discussion with two young men who put forth the baffling claim that I could have this artist book free of cost if I agreed to sign a contract. Reading of the fine print and unpacking of the “library” elucidated the situation—“Hideous Beast,” the artistic duo of Josh Ippel and Charlie Roderick, organize structured participatory events intended to disrupt the inherent passivity of “audience” and generate more interaction-based modalities of entertainment.

This series of pamphlets offers up suggestions for putting on your own event(s); the spirit is descended from Fluxus era “happenings,” get-togethers in the spirit of fun and art in which guests actively participate. Ideas include “Piñata Party,” “Powerpoint Extreme!,” “Laundry Lectures,” “SWEATtime!,” and “Show and Tell.” I think it is telling that one of the User Guides, “Product Placements,” was submitted by the art collective Temporary Services, the same group that implemented an elaborate artistic-literary prank in which they snuck, under the noses of the library staff, over 100 artist books into the stacks of a Chicago public library—complete with facsimiles of library stamps and markings. It’s an endeavor of in the spirit of Eric Doeringer.

The point of the contract, it turned out, is to secure the agreement of the parties involved to execute, document, and archive their realizations of these ideas and/or ideas of their own, to be assembled and chronicled on the artists’ website, to serve as further inspiration and impetus. Perhaps your own interest has already been piqued. If so, this new acquisition is just one of countless ways to come to the Brooklyn Museum Library and get inspired!  

Helgason, Skuta. Library 20081104 / Library 20081104. Self-published, 2008.

Top: Obama; Bottom: McCain.

The Brooklyn Museum Library recently received a generous donation of contemporary artist books from Yvonne Puffer and Sean Elwood, and counted among them were a number of Icelander Skuta Helgason’s democratic multiples, many of which cannot be found in WorldCat. I was pleased to see one entering our collection that I’ve encountered in the past, at a previous iteration of the NY Art Book Fair, entitled Library 20081104. Published during the Obama/McCain election, it pits covers of books from the latter’s personal library against those of the former. It is a wry, wordless commentary on the personalities and values of the two politicians as well as how the personal libraries we build serve to reflect our beliefs and values and advertise to the world who we are, whether it’s via a solid oak bookcase full of quartos or a Goodreads feed on Facebook.

Another gem picked up at the NY Art Book Fair last fall questions institutional authority in the spirit of some of the other projects discussed in this blog, this time that of the museum. Marcel Broodthaers’ Der Adler vom Oligozän bis Heute (The Eagle from the Oligocene to the Present) is an exhibition catalog for an imaginary museum consisting of objects on loan from actual museums; Broodthaers chose “eagles” as the unifying theme for this quasi-fictional curation. The project is discussed in greater detail here on the website of our NYARC partner MoMA, via a related object in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books. The two-volume artist book exhibition catalog for the project recently acquired by Brooklyn Museum Library is also highlighted in a recent article by Principal Librarian Deirdre Lawrence for Central Booking Magazine, along with other artist books from our collection that question institutional authority.  

Broodthaers, Marcel. Der Adler vom Oligozän bis Heute: Marcel Broodthaers Zeigt eine Experimentelle Ausstellung Seines Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section des Figures. Düsseldorf: Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1972. 2 vol.

In past posts, Brooklyn has shared about a wonderful donation of artist books from Arnold Smoller. This artist book is now on view in the Contemporary Art Galleries of the Brooklyn Museum located on the 4th floor along with two other artists’ books donated by Smoller, one by Kiki Smith and another by Louise Bourgeois. Artist José María Sicilia and printer Charles Woolworth took a 1910 edition of Le Livre de Mille Nuites et Une Nuit (1,001 Nights) and printed on top of the original pages in color lithography as well as interleaving the pages with translucent rice paper also printed with the artist’s work. Coming up next month, the library will have another book on display, in an installation devoted to images of Abraham Lincoln; Moyra Davey’s artist book contains highly magnified images of pennies, revealing the intricate scars of chance encounters with the world and drawing our attention to something that otherwise goes unnoticed.

Sicilia, José María. Le Livre des Mille Nuits et Une Nuit: 155 à 169. Paris: Michael Woolworth Publications, 1997.  Image via Michael Woolworth’s website:

The Library acquires artist books to document this important art form and ensure their care and preservation, protecting them in Special Collections, and we simultaneously work to promote their value on par with other Museum objects and utility in research, Education, and other endeavors— exhibiting these books in the Museum's main galleries recognizes the importance of artists books in the world of art.

Jennifer Chisnell, IMLS Intern Coordinator, Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives

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