Critics’ Picks

View of “HELP/LESS,” 2012.

View of “HELP/LESS,” 2012.

New York


Printed Matter, Inc.
231 11th Avenue
July 14–September 29, 2012

Attentive visitors to Printed Matter’s sprawling summer show “HELP/LESS” may come across a handwritten sticky note with the following exhortation: AMAZING ESSAY ON APPROPRIATION BY MIKE KELLEY. PLEASE READ. The note marks a page in a photocopied facsimile of the catalogue for the 1993 Kelley-curated exhibition “The Uncanny”—the original sits behind glass nearby. This text, which probes the strange psychic resonance of figurative sculpture, isn’t exactly an “essay on appropriation,” but it does offer an excellent starting point for an exhibition that finds similar psychic resonance in the copy.

Curated by artist and bibliophile Chris Habib, “HELP/LESS” takes gleeful pleasure in destabilizing sacred cows of authorship and originality. For example: In his exhibition text, Habib describes a long and fruitless search for a copy of Good Boy, 2005, a work in which artist Brian Kennon renders lyrics from Misfits songs as well as other musical and artistic references in the iconic stencil style of Christopher Wool. Initially unable to procure the book—it was part of a limited edition including twenty-five copies, all in the hands of collectors—Habib made his own version. He ultimately found a copy of the original work, which is displayed alongside his reinterpretation. Other objects on view also approach artists’ books as material to manipulate, bastardize, and transform. For his Altered LeWitt, 1985, Buzz Spector tore each page of a 1972 book by the Conceptual artist to create sedimentary, fragmented layers of Sol LeWitt’s precise drawings. Elsewhere, a volume published by Glenn Horowitz slavishly re-creates every detail of Ezra Pound’s notebooks, including the ink that bleeds through each leaf, while Jen Bervin’s The Dickinson Composites, 2010, uses Emily Dickinson’s unusual punctuation and variant spellings—lost in brutal, posthumous translations to typeset—as the basis for abstract embroideries.

In “The Uncanny,” Kelley described the human body as an object ripe for “doubling, dividing, and interchanging.” “HELP/LESS” takes a similar approach to the artist’s book: Ideas and forms refract and multiply across the exhibition; everything is unsettlingly familiar, authenticity is undermined, and origins are impossible to locate.