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Steve Wolfe (1955–2016)

Steve Wolfe, known for his scrupulous and sculptural re-creations of literary classics—such as Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and a Penguin reprinting of Voltaire’s Candide (1759)—as well as full-length records and 45s from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Otis Redding, and the Beatles, has died. Wolfe’s oeuvre seems to function as an intimate self-portrait—much in the way that anyone’s personal collection of books or music might.

Born in Pisa, Italy, the artist studied at Virginia Commonwealth University. He began making works on paper in the 1980s. For more than twenty years, Wolfe created objects that explored the intersections of material culture and the collective memory.

His book pieces carried the patina of secondhand love, yet their scuffs and tears were hardly accidental. The only difference between his version of a volume from James Joyce and the hardback it was modeled after was that his “book” would hang on the wall of a gallery or museum, a copy far more special than the mass-produced original. As critic David Frankel said in a review of Wolfe’s first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in the December 2009 issue of Artforum: “As artworks, of course, they’re strictly do not touch, and once you understand what each one is—not a much-thumbed copy of a favorite art book or novel but its simulacrum, dog ears, grime, and all, painstakingly modeled in materials like metal and wood, and printed, painted, and drawn in oils and inks—you may actually pull away a little, not wanting to fingerprint or even breathe on so careful a surface.”

Wolfe had shown nationally and internationally, and his art can be found in the collections of institutions all over the United States, such as New York’s MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Menil Collection in Houston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art.