When an exhibition’s title takes the form of a question, it’s a reasonable bet that the show will offer an answer. Sometimes — and this is a good thing — the show leaves viewers with questions of their own.
In What is an edition, anyway?, the McEvoy Foundation offers a multi-faceted response. It comes in the form of works that are humorous, political, conceptually challenging and sometimes just good-looking. This is actually the second edition of the show; in 2018, Mana Contemporary, a vast multi-function art space in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, mounted the first installment, bringing together works by such artists as Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger and Andy Warhol — all culled from the collection of Thomas Cvikota. (Cvikota, the co-organizer of the original exhibition, is a fine art publisher and owner of ETC Industries – C. Editions).
Susan Miller, executive director of the McEvoy Foundation, in her decision to mount a second edition of the show, decided to feature many works from Cvikota’s collection, plus a substantial number of works from McEvoy’s holdings. She then asked five Bay Area artists (Enrique Chagoya, Daniel Clowes, Ala Ebtekar, Jonn Herschend, and Stephanie Syjuco) and one former local, New Yorker Hank Willis Thomas, to respond. Each was asked to identify a ready-made or creative work that reflects their personal interpretation of “edition.”
Beginning with the first work on view and the accompanying wall text, we are put on notice that the definition of edition is up for grabs and that it has been broadly interpreted. Like Magritte’s painting of a pipe labeled “this is not a pipe,” Wayne Thiebaud’s New York Times (2002), a charcoal drawing of a folded newspaper, is a picture of an edition, not an edition itself.
Other works, like Stephanie Syjuco’s Excess Capital: Double or Nothing (2019), seem to be more about multiplicity — experimenting with the grey area between an edition as a unique work of art produced in limited quantities (and signed by the artist), and multiples, which are unlimited — to forge an intellectual connection between viewers through shared experience. On open shelves, Syjuco displays different versions of Karl Marx’s Das Capital, first published in 1887. She buys copies of the book on eBay (recent, old, hardcover, paperback) and offers them for sale in this mini-bookstore at twice the amount she paid for them, exercising, in effect, the very principles Marx critiqued. It is fascinating to see how just many different editions there are of this classic work on the exploitation of labor and capitalism’s transformation of economies on a global scale. Even more fascinating is watching gallery visitors realizing that they can actually purchase one, and then trying to figure out which one is the most valuable/desirable.
Daniel Clowes, an artist known for unlimited editions of mass-market graphic novels and comic books, is represented by an original artwork made for the cover of Eightball #8 (1992). Also on view is his collection of Popsies from the 1960s and 1970s. When one of these hand-painted, spring-loaded wooden figurines is pushed down, a flat tab of wood emerges from the top of its head, on which a brief text appears—much like a cartoon’s dialogue balloon. Now firmly in the category of collectible, these incredibly strange yet mesmerizing little bullet-shaped creatures are at once multiples, editions and collectibles.
Ebtekar’s piece Thirty-six Views of the Moon (2019) is the largest and most spectacular piece in the show. Fifty-nine framed cyanotypes printed on found book pages hung salon-style add up to a haunting, fragmented image of a full moon. It commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing, reminding us of how little exploration has taken place over the ensuing decades. In a case nearby, front and back covers of The Black Panther newspaper from July 26, 1969 are displayed. These, too, remind us of another landmark event that took place that same year. After the longest student strike in the nation’s history, San Francisco State University created its Ethnic Studies College. It was the first program of its kind to focus on something other than the white, Western canon. Parsing the relationship between these “giant steps for mankind” while contemplating the pixelated blueness of scattered rectangles of lunar surface offers a momentary respite from the show’s interrogations.
There are a lot of camera-generated images in the part of the show drawn from McEvoy’s holdings: auratic black-and-white prints by such as artists Dianne Arbus and André Kertész; some anonymous “instant prints” (unbranded Polaroids?); c-prints (Anne Collier, Christian Marclay); and a variety of archival pigment prints (Tammy Rae Carland, Yuji Obata). Nearly 200 years into the history of photography, there are still arguments about uniqueness, but these are all definitely works of art — in contrast to much of Cvikota’s contributions to the exhibition in the adjoining gallery. One wall displays a group of vinyl album covers, but the most fascinating area in the room is the vitrine full of postcards, catalogs and even a Matchbox car version of Jenny Holzer’s BMW Artcar (edition 3,000). There are “art” objects in this case as well, but it’s the canny foundation of ephemera that makes it interesting.
Most of the exhibitions that the MFA has mounted since its inception in 2017 have included works from outside the collection. Likewise, using the first version of this show as the foundation for the second iteration was a smart strategy. In the end, the exhibition answers its own question by saying that an edition is whatever you want it to be. Just as Duchamp long ago proved that a mass-produced urinal could indeed be art, so it is with a postcard announcement for Louise Lawler’s show at Metro Pictures in 1987, an Ed Ruscha business card, a Bruce Conner vinyl sticker, a Joseph Beuys felt postcard and much else included in this worthy show.
# # #
What is an edition, anyway? @ McEvoy Foundation for the Arts through September 7, 2019.
Cover image: Enrique Chagoya, One Recession Watchdog (Instant Update), 2011, mixed media (bamboo case, acrylic, and embedded electronics), 18 1/4 x 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches.
About the author:
Maria Porges is an artist and writer who lives and works in Oakland. For over two decades, her critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Craft, Glass, the New York Times Book Review and many other publications. The author of more than 100 exhibition catalog essays, she presently serves as a professor at California College of the Arts.