New York

Richard Minsky

RICHARD MINSKY, the founder and executive director of the Center for Book Arts on Bleecker Street in New York, glories in self-promotion and self-exposure. His limited edition artists’ book is, above all, an amusing, informative and complex monument to his very self-conscious ego.

Minsky in London was begun in June of 1979, and is essentially the result of joint efforts on the part of Minsky (who conceived the book, wrote part of the text, took most of the photographs, designed and bound the volume) and Pamela Moore (a friend of Minsky’s who edited the book and wrote the bulk of its text). Minsky in London functions as a travelogue, a record of the nine months that its protagonist lived in London on a US/UK Fellowship—but it is hardly a straightforward account of facts and events. Instead, the book is a compilation of various peoples’ perceptions of the protagonist—his activities, the people he met, the art he created, the arguments he had, and the opinions he espoused. The shifting points of view represented in the work are intrinsic to its meaning.

The text includes excerpts from Minsky’s diaries, Moore’s more objective transcriptions of facts and events, and also letters written about Minsky by a number of people whose lives were affected by him during his stay in England. (The inclusion of these letters relates Minsky in London to what Lucy Lippard has called “transformation art.”) The resulting book is a composite picture of the many selves that Richard Minsky projects to the world; the reader sees him at work and at play; as an artist, a musician, a student, a teacher, a lover, a businessman, and a hell-raising punk; and as a serious, childish, hardworking, benevolent, self-centered, energetic, engaging, stubborn, wild, progressive, angry, opinionated, lovable, infuriating, dramatic and compulsive man.

So Minsky in London quite effectively creates and projects persona—but it goes quite a bit further. Although Minsky is the uncontested hero of this narcissistic drama, he’s by no means the only character. Unlike many diaristic works that focus on internal processes or emotional nuances, the book unfolds in the external world, and focuses almost exclusively on interactions between the artist and the people he met abroad. The book examines the differences between British and American cultures—differences which are embodied in the conflicts that take place when this pushy American artist begins to impose himself on a foreign culture.

Minsky is, by profession, a bookbinder, and since many of his activities in London were work-related, his creation is, in many ways, a book about books. The artist’s opinions about the quality, durability and style of book bindings are documented at length in the text and photographs. The uses and functions of photographs are also explored, since the book is designed to resemble a vernacular “snapshot” album, even though it functions as an expensive and limited-edition showcase for 90 of the artist’s color prints.

Many of the ideas explored in the text and photographs are embodied in the physical structure of the book, and as a result Minsky in London is a conceptual and complex work. It is also very readable, very informative and often very funny. Nevertheless, I came away from it dissatisfied, because the various facets of the book never come together to create a unified impression of a complete personality. Minsky’s projected persona is totally externalized, and the protagonist’s constant and aggressive output of energy is never balanced by introspection and emotional depth. This missing dimension makes the book seem disjointed and somehow hollow—as if it were lacking an emotional center.

Shelley Rice