Wednesday, January 18, 2012

But Is it Art? Artists & Books

Books by Ed Ruscha including Twentysix Gasoline Stations
From Ed Ruscha's historic Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) to the more contemporary Maurizio Cattelan Toilet Paper Magazine, artists have used the printed page as a disruptive vehicle. Called "hotly subversive" by art historian Margaret Iversen in her esssay "Auto-Maticity: Ruscha and Performative Photography" from Photography After Conceptual Art (Wiley-Blackwell 2010), Rusha's books, she argues, are "products of rule-governed performances" like driving in a car along Route 66 and taking "neutral" black-and-white pictures of 26 gas stations. Cattelan's bi-annual, picture-based publication co-created with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari pushes in another direction. "Every issue starts with a theme, always something basic and general, like love and greed," Cattelan told The New Yorker recently. Whereas Ruscha worked to make "neutral" photographs, Cattelan & Ferrari works toward "uncanny ambiguity". The "magazines" sell for a reasonable $10 on amazon, though reflect lush production values like full color bleeds, luxe heavy stock, and reviews in fashion magazines.
Cover of But Is It Art? by Joachim Schmid
The Internet has liberated books from the realm of functional reference books (e.g. catalogs, cookbooks, and manuals) to dysfunctional objects in service of an idea.Taking Ruscha's rule making to a 21st century level, German artist Joachim Schmidt mines Flickr for images following a theme often executed through a search then publishes them using the print-on-demand service Blurb. Schmid's But Is it Art? (2011) points to the ubiquity of artistic aspirations and how the Internet provides a forum for such aspirations. Like Ruscha's books with their plain white covers and bold typography, Schmid uses words rather than images on the cover of his books. Like Ruscha, whose books sold for $3 upon publication, Schmid makes his books available for around $13. Schmid's performance lies in cruising the Information SuperHighway to critique notions of originality an update perhaps on Rusha driving Route  66 nearly 50 years ago to "convey the results of his experiment." Writes Schmid "Each image shows people’s attempts at creating photography “after”, “based on”, “in the style of” or “inspired by” well-known artists, to varying degrees of success. As individual attempts these samples may be charming, hilarious or bold (and sometimes embarrassing), as a group they raise more interesting questions of originality and authorship." Diminutive in size (Ruscha's books are 7x5-1/2 inches while Schmid's are 8x5 inches), these nearly sacred projects provide an affordable and accessible space for exchange outside the art gallery setting.

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