Artists' Books & Collective Action from the Franklin Furnace Archive

Curated by Courtney J. Martin

The Nathan Cummings Foundation
475 Tenth Avenue, 14th Floor
(between 36th and 37th Avenue)

Exhibition Dates
November 11 2004 - January 14, 2005

Curated by Courtney J. Martin, this exhibition of artists' books created by artists' collectives, community-based groups, or individual artists working within ideological stances of political, social or community activism and organization, is drawn from Franklin Furnace's artists' book collection.

Exhibitions at The Nathan Cummings Foundation exemplify the values and traditions that inform he Foundation's grantmaking. They should embody the basic themes of all of the Foundation's programs which are: concern for the poor, disadvantaged, and underserved; respect for diversity; promotion of understanding across cultures; and empowerment of communities in need. The Nathan Cummings Foundation supports efforts that lead to social and economic justice for all people.

Franklin Furnace would like to thank Claudine Brown and Karen Garrett of The Nathan Cummings Foundation for making the C-Series exhibition possible. Franklin Furnace would also like to thank Adam de Croix and Nina Spensley for installing the exhibition.

Essay by Courtney J. Martin

Group 1 - Individual/Action

Group 2 - Dada

Group 2 - Dada

Group 3 - Activists/Groups

Group 4 - Nuclear/Atomic

Group 4 - Nuclear/Atomic

Group 4 - Nuclear/Atomic

Critical Art Ensemble

Anna Crowell
Child Abuse - The Telephone Tape

Fernando Di Filippi

Guerilla Art Action Group

Guerilla Art Action Group

General Idea
"The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavillon no. 101"

How To 92

Margia Kramer
"Essential Documents" '

Daniel Martinez
"Obscene is?"

Daniel Martinez
"Obscene is?"

Repro History

Clarissa Sligh
"Reading Dick and Sane with Me"

Nan Becker

Franklin Furnace panel discussion at
The Nathan Cummings Foundation, NY,
December 1, 2004, 6-8 pm

A Panel in conjunction with "The C Series, Artists' Books and Collective Action" exhibition at The Nathan Cummings Foundation. 475 Tenth Avenue (between 36th and 37th Streets) 14th Floor, will be held on December 1, 2004, Day Without Art from 6 to 8 PM. RSVP (646) 485-1284.

Panelist Bios:

Conrad Gleber is an artist, professor of theory and critical issues of art and design. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida. In the 1970's he helped to establish Chicago Books as an artists' offset printing workshop. The press relocated to downtown Manhattan near Franklin Furnace in 1981. During its operation, Chicago Books, with support from public and private arts foundations, used the press as a tool for collaboration and publishing artists' books.

Jon Hendricks is an artist and curator. He is a member of Guerilla Art Action Group, the Artists' Poster Committee, and the Committee for Artistic Freedom. He is the curator of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit, and of Yoko Ono Exhibitions. Publications include GAAG with Jean Toche, published by Printed Matter, Fluxus CODEX, published by Harry N. Abrams and the Silverman Fluxus Collection, and YES YOKO ONO with Alexandra Munroe, published by Harry N. Abrams and the Japan Society.

Edmonia Lewis (of GuerrillaGirlsBroadBand) was born on July 14, 1845 in the village of Greenbush in Rensselaer County, New York. Her father was African-American, and her mother was part Native American from the Mississauga Tribe of the Chippewa Nation. When her parents died early on in her life, she was raised as a Mississauga Indian with the culture and values of the Chippewa Nation. By 1858, Lewis left her Native American environment for a life at the preparatory department at Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin College was the Mecca for staunch abolitionists and Christian advocates. Lewis was a live-in boarder with the Reverend John Keep, a theologian at Oberlin. She was also there when, on October 1859, John Brown and two African-Americans from Oberlin were involved in the Harper's Ferry arsenal raid. While continuing her studies at Oberlin, young Lewis was falsely accused in two cases involving students linking her to college infractions. She was forced to leave Oberlin, but she was never expelled. Her talents were already recognizable; determined to become a sculptor, she moved to Boston and started her first lessons in modeling clay under the tutelage of Edward Brackett. Success came when, upon the death of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the all black Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, she completed a marble bust from her memory and his photograph. Lewis, who now worked near the inspirational black artist Edward M. Bannister, also sold plaster reproductions of Shaw, with the consent of his family, to help raise funds for the underpaid black Union Soldiers. At the end of the Civil War, Lewis went to Italy to study and work with other sculptors and artists involved in the purist reproduction of the Neoclassical art forms. In Rome, Lewis was able to meet many prominent American writers, among them Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Lewis, now destitute, was determined to produce works of art in marble. After two years of work in Rome, she completed "Forever Free" in marble (1867-68) and shipped it to America and had to literally beg for the cost of the marble and shipping fees from her American friends. Lewis was determined to buck the odds as a woman and a black artist and endure. Lewis' greatest fear was that people would say she did not create those works of art, and so she drew curious onlookers to her studio as she did all the physical, heavy work as a woman sculptor. Edmonia Lewis' last known exhibition was in the UNITED STATES CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION in Philadelphia in 1876 and Chicago in 1878. No record of her death was ever recorded.

Clarissa T. Sligh is the recipient of awards including Anonymous Was a Woman, 2001, Andrea Frank Foundation Grant, 2000, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Photography, 2000. She is the author of artists' books Voyage(r): Tourist Map to Japan, 2000, Nexus Press and Wrongly Bodied Two, 2004, Women's Studio Workshop. Recent exhibitions include: GLORIOUS HARVEST: Photographs from the Michael E. Hoffman Tribute Collection, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, 2004 and TRIENNAL 9 FORM AND CONTENTS: Corporal Identity-Body Language, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany (with the Klingspor Museum, Offenbach) and the Museum of Arts and Design, NY, 2003. Her work is in numerous books including The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams, Temple University Press, 2002, The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past, by Lisa Collins, Rutgers University Press, 2002, Different: Contemporary Photographers and Black Identity, by Stuart Hall and Mark Sealy, Phaidon Press, 2001, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present, by Deborah Willis, W.W. Norton, 2000. Sligh's work is in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., the International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. She teaches in the graduate photography department at the School of Visual Arts.

The C-Series: Artists Books and
Collective Action
by Courtney J. Martin

Artists’ books are distinguished by the fact that they sit provocatively at the juncture where art documentation, and literature all come together. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the field is its mongrel nature. It is populated with many subspecies and hybrids, and ultimately dissolves easily into the larger universe of books, pamphlets, and magazines. What really characterizes artists’ books is that they reflect and emerge from the preoccupations and sensibilities of artists, as makers and as citizens. 1


An artists’ book is defined as a publication produced by an artist as a work of art. As Clive Phillpot intimates in the catalog essay for the exhibition of artists’ books, Artist/Author: Contemporary Artists' Books, the artists’ book is an inherently politicized object. Artists’ books defy the boundaries of form, medium, and classification of both art and books. They are a visual conundrum because they do not cohere to an established set of criteria. Since they are not easily definable, artists’ books function in ways that other art practices cannot.

Artists’ publications, popularly called artists’ books, have long been a fine art practice. The history of art is peppered with examples of the combination of text and image that gave equal weight to both, often in an effort to aid literacy. These diverse objects may be designed by the same construction methods as sculpture, and with the same compositional devices as painting. Yet, they have the potential to transcend the barriers of decorative art, material culture, illustrative models, or their literary counterparts. The historical predecessor to the artist book is the medieval illuminated manuscript. The modern artists’ book is closely associated with avant-garde artists like Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell who pursued the outer limits of form and medium in art, resulting in, among other things, a new definition of sculpture. From the 1960’s to the present, the artists’ book has been closely aligned with issues of production and dissemination in art that may also involve the art market or issues of craft making.

In the 1970’s Franklin Furnace , under the leadership of Martha Wilson, began collecting and archiving artists’ books . Artists were invited to submit three copies of their books to Franklin Furnace. In a radical move, all entries were democratically accepted without regard to content or aesthetic quality. Ultimately, this collection grew to include thousands of national and international objects. In 1993, Franklin Furnace transferred the corpus of the collection to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). After the transfer, MoMA returned the third, or C, copy of many of the artists’ books to Franklin Furnace. Continuing in their original function, Franklin Furnace currently houses these objects.

This exhibition, originally shown at The Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, takes its name from this collection. It is a presentation of work created by collectives, community-based groups, or individual artists working within ideological stances of political, social, or community activism and organization. The “C-Series” artists’ books have a dual role as an intervention into art making and a form of social critique. This exhibition highlights the artists’ book that explicitly interrogates this function. The works chosen showcase conceptual, technical, and visual documentation of national and international issues contextualized within the process of art making. The exhibition measures the complexity of connecting content with form in the artists’ publication by providing viewers with the opportunity to examine work of varying size and media that fit under this static rubric.

1 Cornelia Lauf and Clive Phillpot. Artist/Author: Contemporary Artists' Books. (New York: American Federation of Arts, 1998): 32.

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