Art Matters, Jenny Holzer & Marianne Weems, Fundraising Letter & Truism Stamps, 1995 – front of letter

“Artists' books began to proliferate in the sixties and seventies in the prevailing climate of social and political activism. Inexpensive, disposable editions were one manifestation of the dematerialization of the art object and the new emphasis on process.... It was at this time too that a number of artist-controlled alternatives began to develop to provide a forum and venue for many artists denied access to the traditional gallery and museum structure. Independent art publishing was one of these alternatives, and artists' books became part of the ferment of experimental forms.”

—Joan Lyons

The Artist's Printed Extension

Cover to Cover: Artists' Books & Ephemera

Artists who publish books of documentation are, in a sense, using the artform to its simplest degree. —Tim Guest, 1981

Sharing an artwork through the very public method of printing and reproduction is the epitome of democratic dissemination. In their seminal 1981 publication Books By Artists, Tim Guest and Germano Celant begin by addressing their audience’s predictable desire to define a book. They suggest that it is not really possible – or necessary – to define what an artist book is, because any given work becomes a conceptual extension of the artist and is therefore an object of infinite incarnations. 

There is too frequently a misinterpretation of printed works and editions as lesser commodities in the market. With artist’s books, the goal was often to distance an artist’s idea from the proverbial canvas, to use words and non-dimensional media as a means to engender and distribute a creative philosophy. Such efforts often led to the creation of superbly idiosyncratic editioned works that succinctly communicate an artist’s entire conceptual foundation, however ineffable. In this way, the artist’s book and the development of conceptual art are inextricably linked. Take, for example, Seth Siegelaub’s July, August, September 1969 exhibition catalogue in which the book is the exhibition. On its pages, it brings together eleven works from eleven artists working in separate locations, works that never physically shared premises themselves.

John Baldessari, Brutus Killed Caesar

For artists like John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha, whose broad outputs often hinged on the collision of word and image, the book became a quintessential medium. One of my favorites from this selection is Baldessari’s rare Brutus Killed Caesar, in which two unknown antagonists face each other with a randomized household object between them. It is understood that these objects are murder weapons, but nothing violent takes place outside of the viewer’s imagination, likely shaped by earlier historical texts like Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Brilliant. Another scarce title herewith is Ruscha’s Dutch Details. Comprised of multiple images taken by the artist showing bridges in The Netherlands, it plays off of his Every Building on the Sunset Strip from five years earlier. Oblong as well, with large fold-outs, this book was very difficult to produce and the publisher did not fulfill the edition, therefore making this the rarest of Ruscha’s coveted artist books.

The book’s potential for comprehensively documenting an ephemeral work or performance was critical for many artists, including Gordon Matta-Clark and Bruce Nauman, the latter whom made an artist’s book (Burning Small Fires) about burning another artist’s book (Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk).  

The pursuit to collect such a wide and comprehensive library of these titles is a passionate endeavor, and it is my view that no collection could be complete without the artist’s book. A personal library needs this texture to augment the rigid monographs and academic surveys that equate the bulk of most collections. Whether a single rarity catches your eye or you’re drawn to group lots from the likes of Christian Boltanski, Gilbert & George, Richard Prince, and Sol LeWitt, Cover to Cover is a fantastic opportunity to bolster an existing reading room or to plant the seed of a collection to cherish for years to come.

—Peter Jefferson, Senior Specialist

Jenny Holzer b. 1950

Jenny Holzer is a celebrated neo-conceptual artist whose masterful use of language has made her one of the most influential artists of her generation. Born in 1950 in Gallipolis, Ohio, Holzer studied painting and printmaking at Ohio University before receiving her MFA in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1977. That same year, she moved to New York City to begin in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though still continuing with painting, it was here that she began to explore the power of text.

For Holzer, this shift from an image-based focus to one that relied heavily on concept echoed a prevailing feeling in the art world and opened her up to novel ways of connecting with her audience. Within a year, she had begun her Truisms series, a collection of popular and sometimes provocative printed maxims, and concurrently, her Inflammatory Essays, based on the writings of incendiary figures such as Adolf Hilter, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Emma Goldman, both of which would continue into the 1980's.

Holzer’s language ranges from the aggressive and antagonistic to the intimate and introspective, sometimes representing her political views on issues such as feminism, poverty, nuclear technology or toxic culture and sometimes, not at all. Her works, which began as handbills posted illegally throughout Manhattan, have always been part of the public domain, demanding personal reflection from her viewers without the influence of artist or institution. As she explained in an interview with Arts Magazine in 1985, “From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has the most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular, and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or in a sign.”

Over time, her texts evolved from printings on posted bills, to shirts, baseball hats and condom wrappers, to scrolling LED displays, billboards and video with other media finding its way into projects, such as her granite benches that occur repeatedly throughout the years. Her light projections have appeared on public spaces such as a ski jump in Lillehammer, the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris and the sides of buildings throughout New York City.

In 1990, Holzer became the first woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale and her installation of scrolling LED messages was awarded the Leone d’Oro for best pavilion. Recently, Holzer has returned to painting and printmaking in a continuation of her confluence of art and politics. Through her innovative and resonant works, remains a highly regarded contemporary artist.

Auction Results Jenny Holzer