80 Washington Square East, NYU

Printed Matter

Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter

December 2, 2014 – February 14, 2015


80 WSE Gallery is pleased to present Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter, an exhibition chronicling the thirty-nine year history of iconic artist’s book organization Printed Matter, and subsequently the larger history of artists’ book production from the 1970’s through the present.

The exhibition presents a transparent timeline of Printed Matter’s recovered archive, including administrative documents, programming ephemera, and publishing projects, the exhibition presents a cumulative biographical portrait of the struggles of an organization committed to meeting the ever-changing need for alternative art economies, modes of production, presentation, and dissemination. These historical materials are framed by two additional major components of the exhibition: a satellite location of their bookstore and a fully equipped print shop, housed within the gallery, which will serve as the site for artist publishing residencies by artists Mary Ellen Carroll, Jesse Hlebo / Swill Children, Juliana Huxtable, Red76, Research and Destroy New York City, and Josh Smith & Friends. 

Established in 1976 by Carl Andre, Edit DeAk, Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard, Walter Robinson, Pat Steir, Mimi Wheeler, Robin White and Irena von Zahn, Printed Matter Inc. was formed in response to the need for an organization that could provide centralized support for the growing phenomenon of artists' book production. The field of artists’ books traces the historical trajectory of contemporary art, evidencing some of the most innovative developments in post-war practices. Numerous pioneers of non-materially based genres, including performance, media, sound, environmental, and conceptual art, relied heavily on the production of artists’ books as a core component of their work. This was both out of necessity— as a way to reach audiences in the absence of institutional or commercial representation, and by design— to circumvent both the market and the institutions that much of the work implicitly critiqued. 

As the many possibilities of publishing became utilized by a wider range of artists working all over the world throughout the 1970’s, artists’ books found a small but committed audience, and Printed Matter expanded its identity and activities alongside the evolution of the field. By 2000 the organization’s work had grown to encompass distribution, exhibitions, publishing, education, an online bibliographic archive, the production of artists’ book fairs and numerous other public programs. 

As a non-profit institution that has always been located within New York City’s gallery districts Printed Matter has remained unique in its ability to democratize the field of contemporary art. In their space, books by Ed Ruscha sit next to zines by unknown young artists from rural parts of the United States and heavy metal guitar players perform while high profile art collectors browse alongside high school students. This sustained and evolving notion of democracy is at the core of the organizations work. Accordingly, through offering a full history of how Printed Matter developed as the vital institution that it is, the exhibition also aims to serve as a resource for new generations of artists in search of different independent models, which enable new possibilities that push beyond the confines of the present.

A table in the middle of the room is stacked with colorful magazines and printed media. The half wall perpendicular of the table features a black and white image with printed out framed texts over it. The right parallel wall is lined with a series of printed matter from the 1970s. The left parallel wall features more text about printing media in the 1970s. Through the hallway there is a glimpse of the following room that follows printing media in the 1980s.
A table in the middle of the room is stacked with colorful magazines and printed media. The two parallel walls to the table have black industrial bookshelves filled with printed media. Above the bookshelves are large posters which consist of black and white printed texts. The wall perpendicular to the table features a large bay window with printed papers stuck to the bottom half of it.
The room showcases printed media history from the 1980s. There is a table in the middle of the floor that has magazines, books, and other printed media stacked on top of it. A series of framed printed texts from the 1980s is lined up on each wall. There is a table top mounted on each wall underneath the framed texts featuring more printed media laid on its surface.
We see half a view of the room showcasing printing media from the 1990s and half of the room showcasing printing media from the 2000s. The 1990s room is seen first and showcases a table in its center that has printed papers placed on its surface. The walls are lined with framed texts and images. The 2000s room behind also has a table in its center and walls lined with framed printed media.
An image and text spread on Mary Ellen Caroll is on a wall above a desk with a desktop computer. On the parallel and right perpendicular wall to the desk there is are old deconstructed printing presses.