The Library Vaccine
September 25 – November 16, 2014

Opening
Wednesday, September 24, 6-8pm
With readings by Michael Dean and Karl Holmqvist,
and books launches by Michael Dean, Arnaud Desjardin, Karl Holmqvist, Sara MacKillop, Dan Mitchell, Kristen Mueller, Sophie Nys, Simon Popper, Erik Steinbrecher, Erik van der Weijde

The Library Vaccine presents a number of discrete collections of books in order to sample art's distinctive relationship to the book form in its singularity, and in its states of reproduction, distribution and accumulation. The exhibition addresses the book as a particular technology, and in its collective state of the private collection, reading room or library, as a social machine – registering social and personal histories, and articulating structures of knowledge and value through the relations between its parts.

The exhibition title is taken from a text by the curator and writer Edit deAk that introduced the 1981 Printed Matter catalogue. In this short piece she referred to artists' books as "the library vaccine, a healing agent formed from the very disease they cure." Each section of the exhibition presents a collection that loosely corresponds to a decade between the 1960s and the present day, yet The Library Vaccine doesn't seek to survey a recent history of books in or as art; rather it takes the tension between book-as-text and book-as-object as a starting point. The exhibition marks a movement from the egalitarian, curative aspirations of the book as distributed artwork, to these aspirations' subsumption within broader tendencies towards collecting, archiving and the re-circulation of knowledge.

Some sections of the exhibition revolve around curatorial or editorial frameworks that highlight artists' use of the book form, while others focus on the collection or library as a holistic entity. In these contexts the act of collation emphasizes shifts between the private and the common, the artwork and the artifact. The roles of artist, publisher and collector are seen to overlap, and the sequenced content of both the individual book and the massed collection provides sites for the production and articulation of meaning.

The Library Vaccine is presented across Artists Space Exhibitions and Artists Space Books & Talks, and will feature a number of talks and programs that both reflect on and activate the books and collections exhibited.

The Library Vaccine is supported by The New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; The Library Vaccine Supporters Circle, and The Friends of Artists Space

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

Beginning in 1959, the playwright Joe Orton and his partner writer Kenneth Halliwell undertook an illicit project, removing books from the shelves of their local library in Islington, North London, collaging their covers and adding sections of text before returning them to the shelves. Their London apartment on Noel Road, Islington, became the center of this work, its walls serving as surface for an immersive and carefully wrought collage made of plates removed from art history books. While the discovery of their interventions into the circulating library books was initially treated with humor by library staff, increasing complaints from the public resulted in a period of police surveillance of the library in an attempt to catch the culprits in the act. Eventually, in 1962, an elaborate ruse resulted in the matching of a sample from Halliwell and Orton’s typewriter with the overwritten texts in some of the books, and they were promptly arrested and charged with “malicious damage.” The subsequent discovery of the scale of their ongoing project in the form of their collaged bedsit drew particular opprobrium, and their room was photographed in detail as evidence in their trial – the fact that Halliwell and Orton kept two single beds became the only obstruction to them being additionally charged under British law at that time, that deemed any sexual act between men in “public or private” a crime.

Serving six months in prison for their actions, Orton’s writing obtained the acerbic edge that brought his plays great notoriety and success in the mid 1960s, work characterized by anger and dissatisfaction with the Establishment. For Halliwell however, the experience accelerated a fragile mental state, and he attempted to take his own life. After prison, he focused on working as a collagist, yet his artistic production went relatively unrecognized and his relationship with Orton became strained. In 1967, in the apartment at Noel Road, he tragically murdered Orton before taking his own life.

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

Since the early 1960s, Hansjörg Mayer (born 1943, Stuttgart) has been actively engaged with the production of printed matter. While the manner in which this engagement has manifested itself has shifted from the production of artwork, to the design and then publishing of the work of other artists, Mayer is a singular figure in his life-long address of the book form. His work over five decades has been marked by ongoing collaborations with artists, and his commitment to removing the barriers between the conception and production of artists’ books.

Mayer has acknowledged that his interests have always been in processes of mechanical reproduction, not in any “primary” artistic production. His typographic practice led him to work directly with concrete poets from Europe, the US, and South America, mediating their text and form based works through the recurring use of the Futura font – which Mayer considers the most functional, least intrusive typeface – and a concern for the particularities of letterpress printing.

Mayer founded Edition Hansjörg Mayer in 1963 as a vehicle for the production of artists’ books, and between 1966 and 1969 ran a gallery in Stuttgart that focused on exhibiting the work of artists with whom he’d begun to collaborate, such as Dieter Roth, Robert Filliou and George Brecht.

In the mid-1980s, Edition Hansjörg Mayer began publishing ethnographic books, a strand initially driven by Mayer’s own research and collecting of artifacts, but later extending to other areas of knowledge. Driven by a desire for ethnographic research to be more widely accessible, especially that which focuses on disappearing cultures, these books have been distributed and translated around the globe.

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

"Something's different. Art is changing. Maybe it's the threat of ecological ruin, or maybe it's the current energy crisis, or maybe it's the ability to willfully obliterate the planet in an instant. The politicizing of art stems largely from these international anxieties, but it is also a result of dissatisfactions within the art world itself. The art distribution system has promoted the concept of the star – the isolated genius. This extreme individualism has led to an unhealthy competition resulting in jealousy, isolation and alienation. Also, considering world needs, the prevailing art about art aesthetic seems absurdly estranged – almost nihilistic in its separation from life. Fiddling in the art world seems too much like fiddling in Nero's Rome. A new evaluation of art and society has begun. Artists ask "For whom am I making this? And for what purpose?" The next step is to give form to these realizations, to become effective, and to communicate to a diverse audience. Enter the artist's book.

Although it is far from living up to its populist potential, the artist's book can be produced in great numbers and distributed internationally. Even though it has volume, it is intimate much like a letter, and, like a letter, it invites dialogue between the sender and receiver. The artist's book is a successful democratic form looking for compatible subject matter."

– From the poster for Vigiliance: An Exhibition of Artists' Books Exploring Strategies for Social Concern, curated by Mike Glier and Lucy R. Lippard. Franklin Furnace, 1979

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
Collins Guide to Roses, 1959 – 1962
Book cover collage
Courtesy Islington Local History Centre

Works by Dieter Roth
Published by Edition Hansjörg Mayer

View of Vigilance: An Exhibition of Artists Books Exploring Strategies for Social Concern, Curated by Lucy R. Lippard and Mike Glier
Franklin Furnace, 1979
Courtesy Mike Glier

Artists Space Books & Talks
55 Walker Street

“The Colin de Land Library” is the title given posthumously to the collection of books and shelving that were in the possession of the art dealer Colin de Land, and his New York gallery American Fine Arts, Co, at the time of his death in 2003. From its founding in 1986, A.F.A. became synonymous with an unconventional approach to the model of the commercial gallery. Its program of exhibitions often conspicuously evaded the development of artists’ positions towards the market, instead privileging an open “situation” – in the words of curator and A.F.A. employee Jackie McAllister, “when entering American Fine Arts, Co., the viewer was invited to engage any number of strategies and effects pertaining to questions of meaning/production/display.” Accordingly, the artist positions de Land worked with were diverse, but often grounded in the critique of artistic and social institutions.

The formalization of this eclectic book collection is itself evidence of the influence the amorphous nexus de Land instigated through A.F.A. continues to have. After his death the books were sold to Berlin-based collector and dealer Alexander Schröder, who organized a comprehensive inventory of the contents and made the library available for viewing and browsing. It has since been exhibited on a number of occasions in Europe, gaining the title “The Colin de Land Library.”

The Colin de Land Library
Collection Alexander Schroeder, Berlin

Colin de Land at American Fine Arts, February 1996
Courtesy Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

Including books by Kasper Andreasen, Linus Bill and Adrien Horni, blisterZine, Daniel Gustav Cramer, Arnaud Desjardin, Michael Dean, Karl Holmqvist, Louis Luthi, Sara MacKillop, Dan Mitchell, Kristen Mueller, Sophie Nys, Simon Popper, Preston is my Paris, Alessandro Roma, Karin Ruggaber, John Russell, Erik Steinbrecher, Peter Tillessen, Erik van der Weijde

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

Writer Helen DeWitt, author of the novels The Last Samurai (2000), Your Name Here (with Ilya Gridneff, 2008) and Lightning Rods (2011), has since the late 1990s waged a quiet war on the intransigence of the social machines that govern language. While she has described the intellectual and artistic urge towards the purification of language as “something like display of impotence in the face of chaos,” in her novels and blog-writing she has addressed “debugging the system of signs” from the perspective of linguistics, coding, the visualization of data, and the vagaries of the publishing world. She sees her own writing, and the revision and editing it’s subject to, as an epistemological open field in dialogue with that represented by her library.

View of Everything is About to Happen: An ongoing archive of artists’ books selected by Gregorio Magnani
Courtesy Corvi-Mora, London and Greengrassi, London
Photo: Marcus Leith

View of Everything is About to Happen: An ongoing archive of artists’ books selected by Gregorio Magnani
Courtesy Corvi-Mora, London and Greengrassi, London
Photo: Marcus Leith

The Library of Helen DeWitt
Kitchen view
Courtesy Helen DeWitt

The Library of Helen DeWitt
Kitchen view
Courtesy Helen DeWitt

The Library of Helen DeWitt
Kitchen view
Courtesy Helen DeWitt