Department of Art and Art Professions


Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter 


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, which address the organization’s current activities: 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 remains 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 country 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 new and different independent models, which enable new possibilities that push beyond the confines of the present.

Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter is curated by Printed Matter Acting Director Max Schumann and 80WSE Gallery Director Jonathan Berger, in collaboration with students and faculty from the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. The title of the exhibition is generously provided by conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner, who has maintained a career-long artists’ book practice and has had a relationship with Printed Matter since its founding.

For more information about the exhibition, please contact the gallery at 212-998-5751 or email 80WSE Gallery is located at 80 Washington Square East, between West 4th Street and Washington Street. General gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10:30AM-6PM. Please note that the Gallery will be closed for the holidays starting 12/21/14 and will re-open 1/6/15. 

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Fales Library & Special Collections @80WSE