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Collaborative Spirit

Prints, Presses, & Deluxe Artists' Books

April 6, 2004 – October 3, 2004

The "Collaborative Spirit: Prints, Presses, & Deluxe Artists' Books" showcases the Harry Ransom Center's large collection of original prints and deluxe artists' books by major 20th-century artists from the U. S. and Europe.

Exceptional publishers in the U. S. and in England created limited editions of original prints -- etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts -- in combination with great literary works. Most consist of loose sheets in a custom-designed box, although some are presented in eccentric, sculptural bindings. The creation of the deluxe artist's book provides an exceptional opportunity for creative collaboration between visual artists and writers.

The comprehensiveness of the Ransom Center's collection shows the development of the deluxe artist's book from its beginnings in early-20th century Paris to its permutations in late-20th century New York City. The latter parallel the development of the original print as an art form on a par with painting and sculpture.

Co-Curated by the Ransom Center's Associate Curator of the Art Collection, Peter Mears, and Dr. Mark L. Smith, co-founder and co-director of Austin's Flatbed Press, the exhibition illustrates the creative range of late-modern publishers, artists and writers in collaboration on the deluxe artists' books.

"This exhibition highlights the fascinating interplay among artists, writers, printmakers and publishers," said Mears. "Inviting Mark Smith -- an expert in the field and director of a local fine press -- to guest curate seemed most fitting as his involvement carries forth the collaborative spirit of this comprehensive exhibition."

The most sophisticated works integrate image and text in a dynamic way. In others, the images illustrate the text directly. In some editions, the images are privileged over the text, and in still others, the emphasis is on experimental form.

Henri Matisse's elegant "Jazz," published by Tériade pour les editions Verve in Paris in 1947, predicts the aesthetic development of the deluxe artist's book in America. One of the most seminal works, "Stones," combines stone lithographs by Larry Rivers and poetry by Frank O'Hara. It was published in 1959 by Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in West Islip, New York, at the beginning of the American "print boom."

Robert Rauschenberg's "Shades" of 1964, also published by ULAE, combines the artist's images with found text. This unusual work generated a new art form known as the "multiple," a non-traditional, sculptural object produced in a limited edition. A radical example of this direction by the same publisher is Buckminster Fuller's "Tetrascroll" of 1977. In this work, Fuller uses his trademark tetrahedon to create a deluxe artist's book that is also a large-scale sculpture whose geometric shape and size can be varied by unfolding and refolding its hinged triangular pages.

A ULAE publication which set the standard for both beauty and image-text integration is artist Robert Motherwell's and Spanish poet Rafael Alberti's "A la pintura" (To Painting) of 1968-72.

"This exhibition provides the first opportunity to see some of the landmark works in what is arguably one of the most comprehensive collections of modern deluxe artists' books in the United States," said Smith. "Viewers are given the opportunity to explore an aspect of the center's print collection in greater detail and within a context not presented before."

Other major artists and writers paired in the exhibition include Jasper Johns and Samuel Beckett, Lee Bontecou and Tony Towle, Willelm de Kooning and Frank O'Hara, Ellsworth Kelly and Stéphan Mallarmé, Betty Saar and Zora Neale Hurston, Jim Dine and Oscar Wilde, Robert Rauschenberg and Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Mapplethorpe and Arthur Rimbaud, Aaron Siskind and Walt Whitman, and Alexander Lieberman and Andrei Voznesensky, among many others.

Other publishers strongly represented in the collection are Peter Blum (New York), the Limited Editions Club (New York) and Petersburg Press (London).

The exhibition showcases more than 100 pieces.