Magazine article Art Monthly

Eye on Europe: Multiples and Books 1960 to Now

Magazine article Art Monthly

Eye on Europe: Multiples and Books 1960 to Now

Article excerpt

Eye on Europe: Multiples and Books 1960 to Now Museum of Modern Art New York October 15 to January 1

'Eye on Europe' was a thoroughly multiplicitous show. Behind the sober subtitle, a small riot of different art practices over five decades had been shepherded together by criteria which slipped deceptively between art-historical formalism and something more suggestive. Artists' books and screen-prints made up the spine, but they shared space with, among other things, lithographs, woodcuts, newspapers, pamphlets, posters, cast objects, knitwear and wallpaper.

The show made a feint at thematic organisation, but conveniently made each theme more or less congruent with a particular period--'mass mediums' (sic) for the 60s, 'expressionist impulse' for the 80s, and so on. The quasi-chronological structure meant the exhibition began with a host of Pop printmaking: screenprints by Richard Hamilton, Sigmar Polke

and Bridget Riley, offsets of Elisabeth II and Mao by Gerhard Richter. Next to these, intriguingly, was Untitled, 1969-74, by Daniel Buren, a sample of his project at Wide White Space in Amsterdam. For five consecutive annual shows, the posters of Buren's signature stripes used for the exhibitions (each time a different colour) doubled up as exhibition announcements and mailers, with the details of the show printed on the reverse. There is something perhaps usefully perverse about thinking of Buren as a printmaker, but the way that the work was domesticated at MoMA--a few token posters in a row on the wall, none outside of the exhibition space or the museum--made a key tension apparent early on: multiplication does not equal dissemination.

The curators had assembled an impressive collection of artists' books and magazines, ranging from issues of Interfunktionen and the concrete poetry journal futura to expanded 'catalogues' and gallery bulletins which, like Buren's work, eroded the distinction between artworks and exhibition ephemera. Some of the most beautiful books pursued forms of taxonomy, whether it was Richard Long's tiny fold-out photo book of megaliths A Walk Past Standing Stones, 1980, or Hans-Peter Feldmann's 'Bilder' series, 1968-74, in which he wordlessly assembled images by subject matter (knees, mountain ranges, shoes) in slim grey booklets. Others played with the obliteration of their source material, such as Marcel Broodthaers' much-reproduced Un Coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard, 1969, in which the lines of Stephane Mallarme's poem are blocked out into black oblongs, or Dieter Roth's books, which reproduce elements of newspapers and comics with parts hole-punched or slashed. Unsurprisingly, however, it was at this point that the exhibition often seemed at its most formalistic and museal: the books were displayed in vitrines, splayed across one another in a compensatory attempt to make them into assemblages. See, for example, the fate of Art & Language, whose journal was imprisoned under glass with a label reminding us that the group defined art 'as a form of text rather than an object'.

Joseph Beuys once asserted that 'the idea of multiples is the distribution of ideas'. Beuys himself was represented with a generous variety of objects, including Felt Suit, 1970, and the editioned tin can telephone Telephone T--R, 1974. …

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