Critics’ Picks

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Untitled (scrapbook A), 1964–70, mixed media, 12 1/4 x 7 3/4".

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Untitled (scrapbook A), 1964–70, mixed media, 12 1/4 x 7 3/4".

New York

“Paperwork: A Brief History of Artists’ Scrapbooks”

Andrew Roth
160A East 70th Street
February 15–March 29, 2013

Art historian Alex Kitnick muses that scrapbooks, like sketchbooks, act as “research and development” for artists: Their pages show a variety of approaches to dealing with a framing device and each demonstrate a range of modes and energies. These thoughts are part of his essay in Paperwork, the catalogue accompanying this exhibition—cocurated by Kitnick and Andrew Roth—which features a breadth of journals and scrapbooks made by an impressive collection of artists, including Brigid Berlin, Richard Prince, and Monika Baer among twenty-some others. Here, twelve tidy vitrines house an unruly array of overlapping binders, notebooks, and otherwise ragtag accumulations of printed matter. Some works take on a diary role, creating an internal framework for self-examination and reconfiguration, like Isa Genzken’s I Love New York, Crazy City, 1996-97, which marries diary to ledger with photos, faxes, clippings, and correspondence. In the work of Ray Johnson and Brian Buczak, this internal life made physical becomes a currency between artists: Twenty pages of Johnson’ s Untitled, 1941, for example, are transformed by Buczak some thirty years later, creating a collection of campy in-jokes and ironic juxtapositions.

See also the untitled books compiled by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin from 1964 to 1977, which are chaotic and masterful, like a mixed media Ulysses: a cacophony of voices, references, and appropriations that huddle together in imperfect comfort. Others, such as Gerhard Richter’s open-ended “Atlas” project and Geoffrey Hendricks’s untitled book finished in 2012, record their graphic fascinations into iterations rather than seeking a synthesis defined by the boundaries of the page. In Richter’s case, samples of landscape or group portrait photography are gridded together as if prototyping their relative effects. And, if books intrinsically rebel at their display in a gallery, frozen under glass, a four hour video, Scarphagia, 2013, by Karin Schneider and Louise Ward defies this: Projected on a wall, a pair of hands anonymously toil through each and every volume on display, providing an alternative, if not liberating, viewing experience.