Show Cards Reprised

Please Come to the Show is a catalog for an exhibition of invitation cards and flyers that was first installed as two small library exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2013 and then as a more extensive exhibition at the Exhibition Research Centre in 2014 in Liverpool.

Antony Hudek, who was the curator of this space in Liverpool, is also one half, along with his partner Sara De Bondt, of Occasional Papers, a non-profit publisher of books on art and design. Along with David Senior (bibliographer at the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York), as editor, they “colluded” to make this book as an extension of the exhibition. All of the materials come from Senior’s survey of the ephemera files (artist files and subject files) that are held in the MoMA Library, where he works. “If any of readers are interested in these materials, they are welcome to visit the library, which is open to researchers,” he told me.

Please Come to the Show is an illuminating and eye-warming collection. I wanted to know more from Senior about the origins of this cache.

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Why did this become an exhibit and book? In terms of the origin of the show, I was interested in paying homage to an esteemed scholar and dealer of artists’ ephemera named Steven Leiber, who passed away a couple years ago. Leiber also assisted in the organization of our Special Collections Artists’ Files during his research in support of his important exhibition and publication, Extra Art: A Survey of Artists’ Ephemera, 1960–1999 (2001). His expertise aided in the preservation of many of the works included in this show.

Another reason to do this exhibition now was partly because of the complete change in how we get invited to things today. It felt worthwhile to highlight this change with a historical exhibition of some of the great examples of the past fifty years from the Library’s very large collection of exhibition ephemera. The show looked back at the genre of the printed invitation in the midst of this technological watershed point – which has made it really hard to remember how people communicated in the not-so-distant past.

 

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Gallery and exhibit invitations have long run the gamut from highly professional to amateurish design. Why do you think there is such a variance? I think it’s simply reflective of the spectrum of the types of spaces where we can find contemporary art. In the present moment in NYC, there is a condition of large galleries and auction houses having very elaborate print production for their advertisements, and then we also have DIY flyers for shows in a basement of some warehouse in Bushwick. Both tell us something about contemporary print culture. These differing scales of production “values” are equally part of the story of earlier works found in the book as well. In the exhibition, there was definitely more of an emphasis of small scale production where the artist or the experimental space used an invitation in unconventional ways.

There is a punkish quality as well. As though the artists couldn’t give a damn about the nuances of graphic design. Is this intentional? Definitely, a kind of punk-ish ethos (or we could say puckish) really informs the production of many of the materials found in the latter half of the chronology of the book – most specifically, in the late ’70s through the early ’90s – what we might call the xerox period.

The directness of this kind of flyer design and the cheap production values were often a necessity, but also, consistent with the tone of the works being advertised. We have flyers from the downtown NYC punk squat/art space ABC No Rio — these things are totally punk and gives us a view into the types of print processes that were accessible to broke young artists at the time and the spirit of the events that were staged in the space.

 

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Are the artists saying that fine typography and printing is irrelevant to their respective works? I’m sure that this type of production was fine with the people that were making the materials! This is a history of contemporary art in print. Artists books and other printed matter of the last 50 years has very often seized on the most direct and cheap means to distribute ideas and images informally and often with a maverick sensibility, puckishly turning formal expectations of the ideas of what is “fine” on its head at every chance.

What percentage of the invitations are done by the artists vs. someone else at the gallery? This is a great question and something that is hard to trace without direct consultation with the artists and galleries. I would say that the majority of the materials in the show were chosen because the invitation or flyer evidenced in some way a direct hand of the artist. In some cases, we can follow a gallerist’s hand too.

The Ferus Gallery invitations and the subsequent Irving Blum Gallery in LA from the 1960s were produced by Blum and show his influence. Or in contemporary settings, we can see the designer/typographer Will Holder’s work with invitation from the Dutch art institution, De Appel in the show, or the designer Scott Ponik’s exceptional current work with the Portland OR art space Yale Union (YU).

Tell me a little about “Library Art.” this is a new one on me. Is this just for the one exhibit or is there more of a trend? That is a title of an essay by Antony Hudek in the book. It’s a discussion of a series of exhibitions called Library Science by the artist, Eleanor Antin from the early 1970s in which she utilized the Library of Congress classification system as a way to characterize “a piece of information” given to her by participating artists. But what Antony takes up in the essay, as well, is 1960s/1970s conceptual art’s indexical qualities, its propensity seek out ways to arrange, store and manage information in a way that is analogous to the behaviors and sensibilities of a librarian or archivist.

 

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You have obviously saved many of these (as did I at one time). What is the motivation? What do these tell us about art, publicity and branding? I’m just riding the coattails of a great collection of material at the MoMA Library that has been carefully preserved by current and former curators and librarians who have recognized the importance of these materials and preserved them over time. The motivation has been to document art activities and these ephemera can possess essential information for art historians.

Particularly, I can mention the former MoMA librarian, Clive Phillpot, who is an important figure in the history of the library’s focus on artists’ publications. Clive has a great essay in our book that adds to his long history of publishing on this subject.

Order Please Come to the Show here.

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