Moderated reading groups, which examine the multiple cultures and histories of copying, will take place Wednesdays and Saturdays from February 7 to March 2, 2013 at P!, 334 Broome St, NYC.
These conversations are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis….
PUBLIC COLLECTORS . ORG
Public Collectors consists of informal agreements where collectors allow the contents of their collection to be published and permit those who are curious to directly experience the objects in person. Participants must be willing to type up an inventory of their collection, provide a means of contact and share their collection with the public. Collectors can be based in any geographic location.
Public Collectors is founded upon the concern that there are many types of cultural artifacts that public libraries, museums and other institutions and archives either do not collect or do not make freely accessible. Public Collectors asks individuals that have had the luxury to amass, organize, and inventory these materials to help reverse this lack by making their collections public.
The purpose of this project is for large collections of materials to become accessible so that knowledge, ideas and expertise can be freely shared and exchanged. Public Collectors is not intended, nor should it be used, for buying and selling objects. There are many preexisting venues for that.
Collectors can accommodate viewers at whatever location is most comfortable or convenient for them. If their collection is portable or can be viewed in a location other than the collector’s home, this would still be an appropriate way to participate in the project.
In addition to hosting collection inventories and other information, www.publiccollectors.org includes digital collections that are suitable for web presentation, do not have a physical material analog, or are difficult or impossible to experience otherwise.
John McWhinnie is a rare book dealer, publisher, and a true fan of far-out counter cultures and ephemera.
This is an interview and some photos i did with John for a magazine that went out of business before it was published. Enjoy. !!!
PS-How did you get started in the rare book game? What do you like about it and what do you find challenging or frustrating about it?
JM- I got into rare books through the back door that most rare book dealers secretly enter: book collecting and academia. I was finishing my doctorate and found that I had become increasingly bored with my job as an adjunct professor. I was also on a fellowship that, while generous by academic standards, left me strapped for cash. I decided to sell parts of my book collection, a collection I had assembled through assiduous cultivation of a whole range of miscreants: from flea market dealers to upscale book dealers across the country.
My collection was well catalogued and ready to sell. Years before I had spent a stint at the rare book and manuscript library at Columbia University. It was while cataloguing the letters of Tennessee Wiliams, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, among others, that I realized that most text-book history is a crock of shit; that real history lies embedded in the actual historical documents I was reading and cataloguing. I remember one particluar moment I had while cataloguing an early draft of Tennessee Williams Streetcar. The early ideas he had for the play, a talking dog and a visitation by a being from outer space that bore remarkable similarities to Claude Raines in The Day the Earth Stood Still, were all there in front of me. It was only later that he dropped both of them for the, and I quote here a handwritten line on the script, from memory, “white hot heat of a thug dripping sexuality and brooding a despair somewhere between Camus’ The Stranger and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup”. I was hooked. It made me realize that everything behind the scenes was where I wanted to be. And so I began in the mid-nineties looking for original manuscripts and letters, as well as inscribed books, from the period nearest my literary sensibility: the beats and sixties counterculture.
So when Glenn Horowitz, the biggest, baddest rare book dealer on the block approached me with an offer to manage his East Hampton bookshop, I signed on (well, not before turning him down a number of times… I was still beholden to this professorial image I had in my head). After running his shop for eight years and curating some incredible art shows (the bookshop had a gallery attached to it) in the Hamptons, Glenn and I partnered up for a joint bookshop/art gallery in the city. That’s where I am now, selling letters, manuscripts, inscribed books, artifacts and art, as well as publishing books.
You know what I like most about it? The chase, the pursuit of the book that no-one thinks exists, or if they think it exists they figure it is no longer attainable. And, once I find that book, because I usually do as I’m relentless in my pursuit, I love cataloguing it. Cataloguing is an activity that I imagine would have made for a good short piece by Jorge Luis Borges. It’s basically a practice akin to detective work. You try to understand the book, its provenance, to whom it was inscribed, how it travelled from author out into the world: everything you need to know to make the thing a living artifact, not just a museum bound mummified object. That’s my favorite part of the business. I could do without the sales part sometimes, though I don’t mind that much either. I’m fortunate enough that I don’t adhere to a conventional canon of books. Sure, I have most of the identifiable landmarks of post-war American literature, like Kerouac’s On the Road, Ginsberg’s Howl, Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest, but I also search for what I think are essential elements of the counterculture from the sixties to today. I’ve handled Hendrix letters and lyrics, Punk manifestos, Hirst ephemera, Richard Prince jokes, everything is part of my “essential hits” mix. And because I don’t have anything that I can’t feel passionate about, my sales pitch is usually sincere, sort of “Hey, check this out, I think this is cool shit and here’s why. Maybe you’ll agree and we’ll have a conversation, maybe you’ll even buy it”. I tell people that everything in my shop is what I’d like to own but don’t have the financial resources (in many cases) to actually own. So I buy it, temporarily own it, and sell it on to someone who can own it for the rest of their life (or, as is usually the case, a period shorter than that).
Frustrations? Well, the business is full of cranks and unimaginative fools, but what profession isn’t? Rare book dealers need to take a distemper shot from time to time (me included). Clients that don’t really have a passion for what they collect but buy merely as investment. They speak of trading in and out of a writer like they’d trade in and out of positions of company stock. But hey, I’m a big boy, that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my nose on that side of things. It is, after all, a game, a bit of a chessboard, and I’m playing too.
PS- Why do you think people collect books/art? And where does the book dealer fall into this equation?
JM- I think people collect books and art for a variety of reasons. For some it’s the fetishist principle that Walter Benjamin writes eloquently about: the belief that the possession of these relics confers the objects magical powers onto owners, be it a power of creativity, a portal to the original time of the work’s creation, a voyage back into their own personal past and so on. Others collect because of a deep personal connection, often forged when younger, with the author of a book, a text, or an artist. Finally, there is the financial motivation. There is a growing tendency to treat art and literature as a new asset class, one that can be safely invested in with significant future returns. I’ve encountered all three tendencies and usually each collector possesses a bit of each as motivation. It’s been my experience, however, that book collectors collect more because of the particular vagaries of their autobiography: they return to an important book from their past, perhaps something they connected to as a kid, adolescent or young adult. It can be Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Pynchon, R. Crumb or even a classic text in the business field, Graham and Dodd’s Security Analysis. I find art collectors often have many intermediaries between them and what they collect: advisers with shopping lists, gallerists with pet artists, curators with their set of important artists. The result is that I don’t always find the same deep connection between the art they are buying that book collectors so often possess. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t there, I’ve been fortunate to meet some dynamic art collectors. But I find that you can come to collecting art later in life. Book collectors seem to start pretty young.
Dealers are an important element of the equation. Some fashion themselves just as that: dealers. They tend to candidly treat the art or book as product, selling it to clients emphasizing its economic identity. Then there are gallerists. They often describe themselves as advocates of books and art as cultural artifacts, deeply important elements of our culture that ought to be collected, preserved, written about and ultimately treasured as vehicles for our culture’s most cherished values. I’m a little of both. I work closely with a handful of clients that bring their interests to me and I dialogue with them, tell them what I find important, and a collection emerges from the dialogue. I really enjoy learning from clients and that can happen when you don’t try to be everything to everyone. I’m in a very small niche of dealers that work privately. I’m fortunate to have a bit of a laboratory as a gallery space, my public face, to try out my ideas and see how they work. But in reality I feel like I am a curator that happens to surround himself with the material I would love to own myself. I like to present items in a context that makes them dialogue with other objects in unexpected ways. I curate books mostly for myself since I don’t have much walk-in traffic. I’ll work on bookcases for hours, placing titles next to each other because I like the way the look together, how they “read”. Or, I’ll arrange for other reasons, often formal, putting types next to each other. It keeps me from being bored. And even if no one else ever sees it, or appreciates the joke, it keeps me living and that’s a positive thing, right?
PS- Tell me a little bit about your publishing company, past, present, and future. Do you like working directly with artists?
JM- I used to publish books under the imprint, “Glenn Horowitz Bookseller”. I’ve been publishing artist books and catalogues for ten years. At first they were a bit more conventional. But as I began to understand my own interests as a book publisher, and as I listened to artists describe their own book needs, I realized there was a place where we both could meet. I consider myself an expediter. I’ll often approach artists with the query, “Is there some book you’ve always wanted to do but never had the money, the energy or the backing of your gallery to make? If so, I want to make that book with you.” As a result, the books I published became more like artists books than catalogues. To reflect that orientation, I created an imprint with my partner, Glenn Horowitz, called “JMc & GHB editions”.
My goal is to make every book look different than the last. I dislike the purity of uniformity imposed from the top down. I’d rather my books change form as the projects change. That way, books that look similar (fine press versus primitively produced; technically sophisticated versus raw; large versus small, and so on) appear that way because the individual projects called for similar books. So, I’ve published a low market paperback with Richard Prince and a beautifully printed, letterpress orientated book with Matthew Barney. I just want to make books and if it means using a mimeo, or inkjet one day, or printing letterpress in Italy the next, so be it.
I get a charge from working with artists. I have ideas too, but it’s always the artist that leads. I may offer to steer them with my experience when they describe what they want, but usually they have pretty certain ideas. One recent book, James Frey’s Wives, Wheels, Weapons, with photographs by Terry Richardson and Richard Prince, I designed almost entirely, choosing the images, the book’s structure, the paper, binding and dustjacket. It was my most ambitious project (I put Richardson, Frey and myself up at the Chateau Marmont for a week to do all the photography, so since it was my money I felt I’d take a stab at designing the book soup to nuts).
PS- It seems that sometimes books are made with the intention that they will be come rare and expensive. Publishers make small runs, ltd. Signed copies, editions with prints, etc. Is this a new concept? Why do publishers do this?
JM- There is a tendency among publishers to make books that are immediately designed to become rare. I call them manufactured collectibles. Taschen does a good job making these sorts of things. Overall I’m not that interested in that part of the book world. On one level, books as trophies to be displayed on shelves bore me. I do make limited editions but my primary focus is on what is called the trade edition. The trade edition is the “mass” produced book that is sent out to the trade - booksellers around the world. With each project I’ve published deluxe editions of the book, signed and slipcased, or even deluxe editions with original artworks.
I try to make those projects different from the trade edition, almost artworks in their own right. In most cases the artist takes a very active role in making the deluxe edition. I see it as carrying on art in another language, and the resultant book an artwork to be catalogued in the artist raisone. If we are successful, it is art carried on by other means, and another way the artist can work to satisfy that aesthetic urge.
Ultimately, I hope all the books I publish are seen as a form of masquerade. They are vamping as books but if you look closely, they’ll show you a little bit of that artwork flesh just beneath their covers. Artists books should be like that: art in the form of a book. I think people are finally getting that artists have used the book like this for a long time. Clearly Ruscha collectors are, but those people who collect Warhol, Kippenberger, Prince, Terrence koh, Dash Snow and Ryan McGinley, to name just a few carrying the torch today, are starting to realize that their collections are incomplete if they don’t include the artists book productions. Maybe some of the books I publish will have that sort of life. If they don’t, then I’m gonna be fucking mad.
PS- What else could you envision yourself doing for a living?
JM- Before taking up the life of a rare book dealer I was finishing my doctorate in Philosophy and teaching at Fordham University. At that time I envisioned myself in academia but my business partner, Glenn Horowitz, kept offering me more attractive deals to run his East Hampton business. He finally made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse, and I didn’t. Still, I always imagined for myself a life that included writing as a major element: At the time I thought the only interesting way to do that was to be a professor. Now, however, I try to get in as much writing as I can, but I suppose if wasn’t dealing in books and art I’d be teaching to support my writing habit.
PS- One thing I like about art is that it has the power to be used to help others, benefits auctions, public commissions, youth outreach programs, etc. Do you think about this? If so does it relate to what you do
JM-Yeah, I like the idea that art changes lives and that it can influence politics and alter the institutional structures of power. Rilke ends his poem, “On the Archaic Torso of Apollo” with a line that is roughly translated as, “you must change your life”. I always thought that the line was only intended for the audience, the reader, but now I understand it is directed at the author and audience. It must change the artist and audience in order to be effective. Art, to take issue with the poet W.H. Auden, changes things, even if those changes are so minute as to be imperceptible in the short run. I am, however, a pluralist and hate passionately the dogma that argues for one, essential function for art, one nature; a nature and function revolving around changing society in the name of someone’s version of social justice. I’m not into an aesthetic militancy, right or left. That’s a dangerous move, one made as often on the left as on the right. It’s an Imperium that can be as pernicious even when the artists who espouse it share your ideology. At its worst it makes art a branch of politics and morals. So although I believe art has the capacity to be transformative in those arenas (but I don’t mean to sound naive, it usually doesn’t change society at such macrocosmic levels) I don’t like it when artists, cultural critics, or any authority starts legislating a practical, society altering function as the most important of art’s roles. I think it is just as important to advocate art for art’s sake and pursue an art that is pointless when it comes to its relation to society. There is such a thing as aesthetic experience and as such, I find artists who explore that, irrespective of their politics, to be a vital part of art. Basically I take exception to an art that wears its politics on its sleeves and tells me what politics and art ought to flourish.
PS-As a book dealer and publisher do you mind that people are saying the economy will suck from now on?
JM-Well, anybody who says that just isn’t a good student of history. The economy sucks, then it revs up, then it sucks again. The factors for such cycles are for economists to debate and politicians to grandstand about. What is clear is that the economy is going to be slowing down for a while. But is that such a bad thing? There is a tendency to speak in such abstract language, as in “The Economy” when in fact there are only “economies”. Not all “economies” are suffering. Some “economies”, and I’d argue the art economy, require this type of correction and contraction in the way that forests require revitalization through forest fire. It tends to balance things out again, makes money less of an issue, and creativity tends to become channeled in increasingly experimental ways. When no one is making money or expects to sell their art sometimes people become more daring, galleries become less rigid, and collectors stop paying attention to their collection like its an investment portfolio. That’s not always a bad thing. Who knows, maybe a new vital underground will emerge and the shadows will cover it long enough so that it functions like all undergrounds have in the past, as a fertile bed for new, non-commercial ideas to gestate long enough to become interesting…. that is, long enough before being exposed to the light of day and the hungry maw that feeds on such ideas in time of over-heated economies.
PS- What are your top 5 favorite books?
JM- Nakahira, For a Language to Come
Robert Frank, the Americans
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridien
Michael Herr, Dispatches
Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
*after some thought, John asked me to add Ray Johnson, Book the the dead
<3 you whoever you are lil Annabelle
You wrote that you watched nineteen hours of Christian Marclay’s The Clock last month. That got me thinking about how much time we look at art. What is the longest you ever spent with a work of art?
You wrote that you watched nineteen hours of Christian Marclay’s The Clock last month. That got me thinking about how much time we look at art. What is the longest you ever spent with a work of art?
We’ve been seeing a lot of marathon artworks lately. People spent whole days sitting face-to-face with Marina Abramovic in MoMA’s atrium. I spent ten hours in the Tino Sehgal Guggenheim show. I slept overnight in Carsten Holler’s sculpture at the Guggenheim. Andy Warhol’s eight-hour film, Empire, is on view at MoMA right now, and people are staying for the whole thing.
Here are guesstimates as to the five longest times I’ve spent looking at a work of art in a single sitting, or in long consecutive sessions. I’m not tallying cumulative time, because I couldn’t possibly. I’m not including video, otherwise I’d have to admit to spending 56 hours watching Matthew Barney’s Cremaster IV 75 times. No buildings, either, or else I’d go on about days spent in the Pantheon or the Hagia Sophia.
1. Giotto, The Scrovegni Chapel: 36 hours. When I was in my early thirties, I spent three-straight twelve-hour days in this walk-in ecstasy machine — not eating, not moving, just looking. In that tremendous fresco cycle, I saw the birth of Western Painting, and the death of any doubt I had that maybe art wasn’t enough.
2. Caravaggio, Bosch, and others: 12 hours. On my first trips to Europe as a young adult, I often spent entire days in front of a single work of art. Hieronymus Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony in Lisbon; Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross in the Prado; Piero della Francesco’s chapel in Arezzo; Correggio’s swirling ceiling Assumption of the Virgin in Parma. I could go on. These were the best days of my life. My favorite: the shock-and-awe in Caravaggio’s three paintings of Saint Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi, in Rome. Here I saw the invention of modern drama and experienced the electrifying jolt of seeing a single second come to life.
3. Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas: 11 hours. Two years ago, feeling my age, I grew scared I might not ever see it again. I’d spent five straight days of eleven hours each in the Prado (maybe the best vacation to and from myself I’ve ever had). On the last day, I sat in front of this one painting from opening until closing. I think I entered some sort of mushroom-based universe of timelessness. (I have looked at the work of Velazquez, Goya, and Cézanne more than I have any other artists.)
4. Matthias Grunewald, The Isenheim Altarpiece: 9 hours. To me this is the greatest painting in France. Housed in a church turned museum in Alsace, this extraordinary pictorial healing machine has drawn me back several times. The first time, however, a miracle happened. I went in at 9 a.m. At noon, the museum closed for two and a half hours, and everyone left. Except me. It was pre-9/11. Maybe the museum was used to obsessed viewers. I decided to jam my fourth chakra and alter the flow of my kundalini in order to become invisible, and for some reason I’ll never know, the staff agreeably locked me inside the museum with one guard. I had the painting completely to myself for two hours. It changed my life.
5. The Basilica of San Vitale, in Ravenna, Italy: 8 hours. My wife and I walked into this amazing early Christian-Byzantine church. We were smitten for eight straight hours by the dazzling sight of walls, vaults, columns, and stones covered in fifth-century mosaics. A full day came and went, completely without our realizing it, as we were transported to other astral planes.
Honorable mention: The shortest viewing that changed my life happened three summers ago. My wife and I visited the Niaux caves in southern France. We and a group of ifteen paying tourists were led 30 minutes’ walk into the cave. It was cold and dark, our paths lit with only flashlights. Finally, the guide stopped and asked for our lights. She then shined her own flashlight on a wall of prehistoric paintings of bison and antelope. The psychic-visual magnitude was so powerful that I thought I was going to die. I’ve never seen anything this staggering before or since. No one ever painted mammals this spectacularly again. We were allowed only five minutes. They still reverberate within me.
In recent years the State Department has relied on performing artists to act as cultural ambassadors, sending dancers and musicians around the world to show people that America is more than just Hollywood movies, McEverything and two drawn-out wars.
Holly Block, the director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The museum has been chosen to administer a new State Department program sending artists abroad.
But under a new $1 million program being announced this week, the Obama administration is planning to expand its cultural diplomacy programs to include visual artists like painters and sculptors, who will be asked next year to create public art projects in 15 foreign countries.
“To me, visual artists are just as capable as other artists of capturing a dialogue with people,” said Maura M. Pally, a deputy assistant secretary of state who is overseeing this two-year pilot program.
The new program, known as smART Power, will be administered by the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which was selected from a dozen institutions to choose the artists. They will be sent to places that include Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Nigeria and a Somali refugee camp in Kenya.
The museum will put out an open call for proposals early next year; the 15 artists will be selected by a panel of experts put together by the museum. Holly Block, the museum’s director, said she had no preconceived notion of what projects the artists should undertake. But as an example of the kind of proposals she was anticipating, she mentioned a work by Pedro Reyes, a Mexican artist, in which he melted down guns turned in as part of an anti-violence campaign and turned the metal into gardening tools.
David Sylvester : [Y]ou hadn’t been working for many years when you started doing the signs?
CO: I hadn’t been visible for many years, shall we say. I had been working for about ten years, preparing myself in many ways. But you know how it is. All of a sudden you arrive with something which makes you visible.
DS: Had you done any art school training?
CO: I did go to the Art Institute of Chicago off and on. Most of all I tried to digest traditional by myself, mostly doing a lot of drawings that I did in solitude for a period of about five or six years thinking about what art could be or should be at this time. And this was a pretty private thing; I just worked away on my own. I made hundreds and hundreds of drawings in that period, many of which were destroyed because they weren’t quite clear enough.
from a 1965 interview, republished in Interviews with American Artists (2001)