Friday 3 February 2012

In praise of self-publishing

Buster Cleveland, Art For Um, vol. 2, issue 9, 'Poop Art', February 1995

Fans of art and books, or particularly artists' books, should head over to London's ICA to see In Numbers, an exhibition featuring publications and printed artworks produced by artists from 1955 to the present day.

There are some real treats on show, all of which demonstrate the experimental possibilities of publishing. In addition to books and magazines, there are also examples from the correspondence art movement, particularly prevalent in the 1970s, where artists exchanged images and ideas by post.

Eleanor Antin, 100 Boots on the Road [no. 9], September 7, 1971

Maurizio Cattelan & Paola Manfrin, Permanent Food, no. 10, 2003

Particular highlights for me were Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots set of postcards, which feature the eponymous boots in various locations across California and New York; Buster Cleveland’s Art Forum mash-up collages Art For Um; Nobuyoshi Araki’s exquisitely bound Photocopy Books; and the chance to see a collection of Maurizio Cattelan and Paola Manfrin’s Permanent Food magazines, which cannibalised content from a stockpile of other mags.

Like the Graham Sutherland show I blogged about earlier this week, In Numbers is an exhibition that is really worth a visit to see the actual works, instead of just admiring images of them online. Only then can you appreciate the diversity of styles of publishing in the show. The exhibition is beautifully presented too – with each artist’s work in a separate, specially designed display case. The only slight frustration is that the works are too valuable for a flick-through, meaning you can only enjoy the pages that the curators have chosen to reveal.

Jacqueline de Jong, The Situationist Times 5: 'International [Olympic] Edition', December 15, 1964

G√ľnter Brus, Die Drossel 16: 'Circannual', June 1976

In Numbers should serve as an inspiration and a call to arms for contemporary artists (and anyone else) to make their own books and magazines, and join in this rich tradition of experimental publishing. Appropriately enough then, the Publish and Be Damned Fair, which celebrates self-publishing, will take place at the ICA on March 17, where independent publishers will trade their wares. More info on this event, and the exhibition in general is at

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