The Gallery for Small Sculpture on the second floor at Albright-Knox Art Gallery is home to the new exhibit, “Printed Editions in the Sixties and Seventies: LeWitt, Roth, Ruscha,” displaying a trove of books created by the artists. Organized by curatorial assistant Laura Brill, the exhibit provides an alluring glimpse of how these three artists approached the sequential nature and form of the book.
Sol LeWitt and Edward Ruscha may be familiar names, as Ruscha’s “Electric,” a deep blue panel with yellow and orange serif letters spelling out the title across the width of the frame, has cycled through the pop art section of the gallery. Likewise, surrounding the staircase to the second floor of the gallery is LeWitt’s massive “Wall drawing #1268: Scribbles: Staircase.”
Dieter Roth may not be as familiar. The Swiss artist is best known for his books, prints and sculptures, some of which are made of found materials, including rotting food. Some of Roth’s books in this collection are more catalogs of his fascinating pieces, mixing color and black-and-white prints. Others are a collection of themed illustrations, as in “Trophies,” which includes surrealistic line drawings of awards.
With the interesting “246 Little Clouds,” Roth creates a different kind of book, made of illustrated clouds taped to pages with accompanying handwritten phrases and questions. Smudged and dirty pages from what looks like graphite smears, and a hazy, disconnected arrangement contribute to the feeling of a nebulous collection of ideas that stands in contrast to the more formal characteristics in the rest of the exhibit.
LeWitt’s books are made with bright colors and repeating geometric forms and textures imbuing them with a wide-eyed energy. “Incomplete Open Cubes” and “Lines in two directions and in five colors on five colors with all their combinations” are made of pages of deceptively simple minimalist shapes and patterns.
In his “Autobiography,” LeWitt brings those abstract ideas into a personal space. Composed as a three-by-three grid, each page has nine black-and-white photos of LeWitt’s belongings: windows, electrical sockets, books and pots and pans. Arranging his unglamorous photos of banal items in this way, he creates motion and rhythm in the simplest layout that encourages viewers to reach through the glass and turn the page.
Possibly the most famous book in the exhibit is Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip.” When fully open, the book stretches to 25 feet long. A selection is on display, with the small filmstrips of photos on the top and bottom of each page. When completely folded up, the book is longer than it is wide, which causes a problem when viewed on the nearby tablet, where visitors can only scroll through the book two pages at a time. This makes the images tiny on the tablet screen, losing detail, and compromising the largesse of the piece.
Ruscha’s books in this collection also are made of images of mundane objects, but he focused on exteriors, and everyday events like parking lots, swimming pools and apartment buildings. “Various small fires and milk” ostensibly contains a collection of those images, but they are difficult to appreciate when the book is closed. This is not an isolated frustration, as a good number of books on display present only their captivating covers.
There is a tension running between the growing desire to touch, flip through, and read the books, and the need to keep them preserved. On display in permanent glass cases makes for excellent viewing of an object, showcasing evocative covers and opened single spreads that beg to be turned and touched. The most important part of a book is experiencing all of its contents. Leaving some of the books closed, and all of them physically inaccessible might be practical but creates a barrier to a deeper engagement with these intriguing pieces.
What: Printed Editions in the Sixties and Seventies: LeWitt, Roth, Ruscha
When: Through Jan. 4
Where: Albright-Knox Art Gallery