Edition Jacob Samuel (2010)

OUTSIDE THE BOX

EDITION JACOB SAMUEL, 1988 – 2010

ARMAND HAMMER MUSEUM

May 23 – August 29, 2010

Jacob Samuel, a master printer and the art world’s “best-kept secret” has a life that many would envy. He gets artists to think “outside the box.” As publisher and printer of “Edition Jacob Samuel,” he does exactly what he wants—publishing prints by some of the most famous artists in the world and producing highly regarded editions of original works, prized by international museums. With few exceptions he works only with artists whose oeuvre he has admired and known for at least ten years, and, if he finds that a project is not going well, he simply backs away. Samuel, as the printer and publisher of his imprint, Edition Jacob Samuel (EJS), is completely in charge of his enterprise. After remaining discretely in the background, the printer is featured in the current exhibition at the Armand Hammer Museum, Outside the Box, which displays his entire Edition. For two decades, he has enriched the art world with an old-fashioned medium, etching, working quietly at the service of the artists. The exhibition currently on view features the total output of his publishing career, which has been jointly purchased by the Hammer and by the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.

The artists in Los Angeles have always independently produced what the trade knows as “artists’ books” and the city has always supported artists who wanted to produce prints. Print workshops such as, the Gemini G. E. L. and Tamarind Institute, are now world-famous. East Coast artists, who wanted to make prints, such as Jasper Johns, came to Los Angeles. Printmaking has been part of the West Coast’s artists’ fascination with materials and experimentation with process. These printmaking workshops were founded in the sixties when Los Angeles was not on the art map, or at last not on the mind of New York critics. Being on the Left Coast and far from the art game, artists in Los Angeles had the freedom to experiment without having to respond to an art market. Although artists, such as the printmaker, June Wayne, from Tamarind, are mostly famous in L. A., book and print artist, Ed Ruscha, is internationally renowned. Ruscha began his career with his series of laconic books, cataloguing the sights of the city, from palm trees to parking lots. His self-published books, which, at one time, you could buy for five dollars, include Every Building on Sunset Strip and my favorite, Royal Road Test. Nowhere are the unexpected possibilities of printmaking explored more inventively than with Ruscha, who has printed with blood, spinach juice, carrot juice, even chocolate, instead of ink.

Samuel honed his craft through a long-term collaboration with the Los Angeles artist, Sam Francis, who died in 1994. In comparison to the exuberant and complicated prints of Francis, the aesthetic of Edition Jacob Samuel is more restrained and reductive. Even though it would seem that Jacob Samuel’s selection of etching, which requires a certain level of exactitude, might constrain the artists’ inventiveness, the prints produced through Edition Jacob Samuel are full of surprises. Ruscha’s work with the printmaker is a case in point. The artist is famous, not just for his books and prints, but also for his paintings, which often feature signs. “Signs” has two meanings with Ruscha, first the familiar advertising signs that guide us, and second, the semiotic sense of sign, that is: signs carry meaning. In one of his better-known paintings, he artist presented the word “hotel” in vivid orange with the letters arranged vertically. The meaning of the arrangement went beyond the word and implied that the “hotel” in question is a cheap one. An expensive hotel always writes out its name in horizontal elegance, while a cheap hotel uses garish neon, economically fixed to the side of the building.

The trademark of Ed Ruscha’s work is the combination of image with text, with the text predominating over the image, until the text becomes the image. After decades of such visual-verbal puns and semiotic play, the prints Ruscha produced for the Edition, Blank Signs of 2004, take the play with signs one step further. In this series of prints, the signs are road signs in the desert, a place where one would need directions; but the signs are blank. The artist’s use of masking on the etching plate rendered the shape of the signs and their supports as ghostly shapes outlined against his delicate drawings of the desert terrain. The traveler is lost without any clues. Perhaps it was the desert winds, but the words are bleached away from the surface of the roadside signs, but the wit of the act of masking out the word play is clear to those who know the artist’s signature satirical style.

Ed Ruscha, like another artist featured in the show, John Baldessari, is local to Los Angeles and can make prints in the city. But what makes the work of Jacob Samuel different from that of Gemini and Tamarind is that artists do not have to come to his print studio; he can travel internationally, carrying his portable studio with him. When an artist comes to the printer’s workshop, he or she is not at “home,” so to speak. But Samuel comes to the artist’s studio where the artist has the full resources of the home studio at her disposal. Through his portable workshop, Samuel provides the printing materials and the artist provides the inspiration and then the portable studio is packed up and the printer goes home. A world famous artist is a busy person, Samuel states, and he respects the limited time of someone like Dan Graham, also in the show. The printmaker and the artist consult on the final result at long distance. The collaboration between the artist and the printer is that of the leader and the follower, the one who initiates and the one who carries out the instructions. Samuel insists upon being humble to not just the artist but also to the materials themselves.

The delicate relationship between the artist and printer are on view with the prints of the German artist, Rebecca Horn. For those of us in Los Angeles, our introduction to the artist was at her influential retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1990. Although she had been a leading German conceptual artist since the late 1960s and she had taught in San Diego in 1974, like many European artists she did not get her due in America until mid-career. Her installations in Los Angeles were a revelation in artistic intelligence, but not every work could travel, for example, one of her most important early works, the Overflowing Machine of 1970. Now owned by the Tate, the original machine included a nude dark haired young man, standing immobilized on a pedestal, surrounded by tubes (one of Horn’s trademark materials) through which red blood coursed. The conduits of blood circulation ran up and down on the outside of his body, making the invisible visible.

Her recurring theme of blood reappeared in the series of prints made between Samuel and Horn. The two had met on the occasion of her retrospective in Los Angeles, but Horn was not interested in prints. She actively disliked the effect of the reversed image and said as much to Samuel who immediately offered to solve that problem. The solution was to ask a local supplier of Gampi paper to invent a form of transparent paper. The image could be executed and the print, on surprisingly strong transparent paper, could be flipped over, reappearing in a reverse of a reverse, according to the artist’s original intent. Working in Horn’s large well-appointed studio in Berlin, the printer set up his portable studio and let the artist have her way. Restricted to blood-stain red and to a paper the color of her creamy skin, the redheaded artist made a series of prints, one featuring blood cells, another with marks made from a log from her studio fireplace dragged over a plate, and still another “painted” with a bouquet of dried roses. Like many of the artists in this exhibition, Horn is a writer and is as well known for her poetry as she is for her art, and the poems interspersed among the images preexisted the prints.

Just as Horn scored her plates with found objects, such as twigs, Marina Abramovic scratched her plates with her fingernails. Discussing her Spirit Cooking with Essential Aphrodisiac Recipes of 1996, Samuel noted that Abramovic “performed” her prints, meaning that the process of execution became a performance for the performance artist. Each artist brought his or her unique art form to the experience of making prints. In 2004, Mona Hatoum used her hair as a drawing tool, with coils and strands placed carefully preserved on pieces of paper and then slowly slid onto the plate. The Anglo-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor, commissioned a very special set of colors, deliberately made to reiterate the soft velvety dry pigments of his early works. The result was a set of prints with deep and profound colors that resonated and seemed to lift off the paper. Meredith Monk sang to Samuel as she made her prints of musical scores, and close friend, the late Chris Burden, shared his many encounters with coyotes in Topanga Canyon, told in a school-boy’s handwriting for Coyote Stories of 2005. Each series of prints presents a new but familiar facet of the personality of each artist.

Jacob Samuel takes pleasure in providing opportunities to artists. His Santa Monica studio, located in one of the last un-gentrified blocks in the city, is clean and spare, but, in the window, floats a transparent print by Gabriel Orozco, a Lotus Leaf from 2003. The transparent print ascends above the heavy and gleaming printing press. Although he has an artistic degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts in the Bay Area, Samuel insists that he “does not think like an artist” but thinks technically. (Collectors of his paintings would disagree.) The son of immigrants from Wales—his grandfather peddled pins—he grew up in Malibu and Venice, when Venice was “Dogtown” and the “Z Boys” ruled. A long-time surfer, Samuel was interested in the Italian Arte Povera movement of the Sixties. Not unlike the post-war cinema of the Italian filmmakers who used ambient light and sound and untrained actors, the artists of the Arte Povera movement were fearless in striking out beyond the materials approved by fine arts at a time when painting ruled.

One of the veterans of the 1967 movement, the Greek artist, Jannis Kounellis, stepped out of his comfort zone in 1999 and produced a series of prints for Edition Jacob Samuel that were surprisingly delicate and lyrical. It is this fertile mix of Samuel’s interest in the historic discipline of prints, his reductive aesthetic, fueled by the concept of serial imagery of the sixties, and the willingness to be open to the possibilities of unexpected and unorthodox materials that gave rise to his imprint. Many of the artists featured are also writers who produce poetry or narratives, which respond to the images, or vice versa. Samuel employs a professional typographer to execute the pages of text, which have their own presence and yet are subordinate to the images. The rows of small spare prints are elegantly presented in simple and pale frames, hung side by side and while the series is under the name of the printer, “Jacob Samuel,” Outside the Box can also be thought of as a group show, featuring world famous artists. Oddly, collectors have not been interested in these print works and ninety percent of the purchases come from museums, which support the publisher’s efforts. For the art audience interested in the full range of an artist’s work, the exhibition, Edition Jacob Samuel, at the Hammer this summer allows the viewer a rare glimpse into the rewards of the collaboration between artist and printmaker.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene in the 1960s

REBELS IN PARADISE.

THE LOS ANGELES ART SCENE IN THE 1960s

by

Hunter Drohojowska-Philip

Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene in the 1960s is a lovely and delicious book. Delightfully and briskly written, it is far and away the best book Hunter Drohojowska-Philip has produced to date. She rightly calls the book “a love letter to Los Angeles” for it is narrow in scope and presents the sixties from a personal point of view. Did this book need to be written? Probably not, because the sixties scene in L. A. has been thoroughly discussed. The historical bricks and mortar are already in place but what the author provides are interesting bits and pieces, anecdotes about “making it” in the art world, California style. Most of the new material comes from oral histories of the definitive decade, so that the book is based on the artists’ voices. The reader can get through this book in a couple of hours, skipping lightly along the familiar and pausing for the occasional new gossipy nuggets about the marital musical chairs and who took LSD, who rode surf boards or motorcycles or hot rods and other mildly amusing stories of harmless fun in the sun.

It is very difficult to write this kind of book, which narrates history like a novel, but Drohojowska-Philip has the literary skills to pull it off. Take this nice opening passage:

A feeling of excitement charged the balmy evening air outside, and North La Cienega Boulevard traffic slowed as drivers gawked at the scene. Inside, stylishly coifed women in sleeveless dresses mingled with Los Angeles artists, awkward young men outfitted in thrift-store splendor. Warhol entered the filled-to-capacity gallery wearing a carnation in the lapel of his Brooks Brothers blazer.

This is a book you want to read. Compare the nicely elegant prose to his turgid mess from the opening of The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich:

It was probably the third cocktail that did the trick. It was hard for Eduardo to tell for sure, because the three drinks had come in such rapid succession—the empty plastic cups were now stacked accordion style on the windowsill behind him—that he hadn’t been able to gauge for certain when the change had occurred. But there was no denying it now, the evidence was all over him. The pleasantly warm flush to his normally sallow cheeks; the relaxed, almost rubbery way he leaned against the window—a stark contrast to his usual calcified, if slightly hunched posture; and most important of all, the easy smile on his face, something he’d practiced unsuccessfully in the mirror for two hours before he’d left his dorm room that evening.

The opening passage warns you that you, the poor helpless reader, will be trapped in a mire of terrible over-writing. This is a book you will never finish. Here’s another would-be masterpiece that defies even the most tolerant reader’s patience:

Standing in the kitchen of his Park Avenue apartment, Jamie Dimon poured himself a cup of coffee, hoping it might ease his headache. He was recovering from a slight hangover, but his head really hurt for a different reason: He knew too much. It was just past 7:00 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, September 13, 2008. Dimon, the chief executive of JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s third-largest bank, had spent part of the prior evening at an emergency, all-hands-on-deck meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York with a dozen of his rival Wall Street CEOs. Their assignment was to come up with a plan to save Lehman Brothers, the nation’s fourth-largest investment bank—or risk the collateral damage that might ensue in the markets.

Deliver me from such wordy writing. Undoubtedly Andrew Sorkin had good intentions in Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System–and Themselves but the book is an impossible slog. It is the bad prose, such as these examples, all too common in non-fiction books, which makes Rebels in Paradise such a nice change. Finally, someone who can write nonfiction. Drohojowska-Philip wisely sticks to simple description and lets her interesting cast of characters and their adventures drive the story. That said, the definitive version of the emergence of Los Angeles as a major art scenes in the face of East Coast indifference has still to be written. Anyone interested in the history of this period must to go through multiple volumes, starting with Cary McWilliams and Mike Davis and Peter Plagens and working up to recent updates by Peter Selz (Art of Engagement) and Elizabeth Armstrong (Birth of the Cool). The MOCA catalogue, Under the Big Black Sun, coming out in October of this year, looks promising with an interesting roster of writers but will probably have the same kind of narrow focus found in most of these books. The student of the history of Los Angeles art must put together a complete picture by cobbling together information from various genres and Rebels in Paradise is yet another addition to a larger pool of information.

A compendium of personal experiences and memories, Rebels in Paradise, captured from the aging group of pioneer artists and dealers their tales of building an art world based upon freedom and experimentation when no one was looking and no one cared. The audience for these Rebels was almost exclusively an audience of producers. Some of the seminal figures have died since the founding of the Cool School: Walter Hopps, John Altoon, and Wallace Berman, significant voices stilled. The book deals with the decade of the life of the Ferus Gallery, the key exhibition site of the sixties. A few other galleries and non-Ferus artists are included, such as Nick Wilder’s artist, David Hockney, and the rare woman on the scene, Vija Celmins. African-American artists and activist artists get a quick walk-on. Beginning with a prelude in the mid-fifties, which Drohojowska-Philip refers to as the “Beat” period, the focus is on the stable handled by founder Walter Hopps and his successor, Irving Blum. The Ferus Gallery was the equivalent of a tree-house for very immature boys only and a frat house for partying artists who enjoyed the cultural attitude of “boys will be boys.”

These boys included Billy Al Bengston and Ed Ruscha and Ed Moses and Larry Bell and Ken Price and John Altoon and Ed Kienholz and Robert Irwin, with some being given more coverage than others. The author includes Joe Goode, although he and his paintings with milk bottles were not part of the Gallery. She also includes a close friend and collaborator of the Ferus artists, the up and coming architect, Frank Gehry. The Ferus gang advertised themselves as “The Studs,” and many writers think that this label, seen in a gallery exhibition poster, referred to the constant diet of willing nubile young women who hung out with the young and handsome men. In fact, the “studs” reference the actual studs of the gallery walls where the nails were driven to hang the paintings….or so one of the artists now claims. But some of these frisky gentlemen, like Ed Kienholz and Craig Kauffman, seem to have collected wives. The art scene was so glamorous and so appealing that it attracted other brash young men from the movie industry, Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, and pretty starlets, such as Teri Garr. These minor B list stars gave the scene added luster but also spoke of the unmade bed quality of the Los Angeles art world, where anyone could climb in, unless of course you were black, gay or a woman.

The focus of Rebels in Paradise is kept tight on the artists themselves, their lives and biographies. The art itself is only glancingly discussed and a reader not familiar with the paintings of Bengston or the ceramics of Price or the architecture of Gehry would be lost. Written for insiders, the account is uneven at times. The author relies upon a prior understanding of Every Building on Sunset Strip, for example, but provides a more informative discussion of Hockney’s portrait of the collectors, Marcia and Frederick Wiseman and a good account of how Robert Irwin constructed his convex dot paintings. The book has no social context and “history” is usually a few sentences, which work as establishing shots. There is some attempt to discuss the frustration of the African-Americans in Watts after the Civil Rights Movement but the reasons for the famous Peace Tower—the Viet Nam War—are glossed over. The relative lack of historical backdrop is a loss because the artists in Los Angeles were willing to tackle the social and political issues of the day, something the New York artists refused to do. The silence of so many East Coast artists makes the social critique provided by Vija Celmins and Noah Purfoy all the more brave and remarkable.

Aside from the comparative lack of social and economic and political context, the scope of the book is an excellent attempt to create a literary biography of an active and varied the art scene in Los Angeles. Drohojowska-Philip takes the time to include a thorough discussion of the Light and Space movement, which took place outside of the small stable of the Ferus Gallery. She also brings in the ebullient Rudi Gernreich and the very important print studio, Gemini GEL where Robert Rauschenberg began an important new phase of his career. In other words, Drohojowska-Philip emphasizes the New and keeps out the older traditions, which perhaps explain the comparative neglect of John McLaughlin whose paintings are connected to the California tradition of light but also stem from the hard-edge tradition of the East Coast. The author concentrates on the semiotic approach to painting—the conceptual paintings developed by Ed Ruscha, which relegates pioneers in abstraction, Lorsel Feitelson and Helen Lundeberg, to the past. The sixties in Los Angeles is an entirely new post-war plastic world, largely populated by Midwest and European immigrants attracted to the new possibilities of the Last Frontier.

I do not approve of critiquing a book for being something it was not intended to be but I do feel that it is important to state what Rebels in Paradise is—-a series of anecdotal biographies of a small group of significant artists—-and what it is not—a history of Los Angeles and its art at a particular moment in time. Because the author stays so completely in her chosen tranche, there can be no perspective on the people or the events as viewed from the position of the present. Today, the idea that an art scene could unfold without women and people of color seems strange and unforgivable, particularly in light of the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. Drohojowska-Philip presents a racist, sexist, and homophobic art world that is typical of its time, a sort of Mad Men at the Ferus Gallery, but resists commentary or judgment. These years were the last of the total domination of the white male and it probably did not occur to any of these white and male artists that they were the last of their kind. And these lives and careers are now, fifty years later, coming to a close. It would have been interesting to have more of an epilogue—the illness of Teri Garr, the death of Dennis Hopper, the waning of Billy Al Bengston, the rise of the “Starchitect,” Frank Gehry and the contributions of Betye Saar and her remarkable daughters.

Overall the book is a very special sixties nostalgia trip, retelling the story of the making of an art world, without controlling art critics, without ruling dogmas, before the take-over of an international art market and before the control of the art schools. The author takes the reader a bit into the future by bringing in John Baldessari and Judy Chicago, leaders of the seventies scene which ended painting as it was known and began the challenge of feminist art—all done at Cal Arts. Again and again, Drohojowska-Philip presents statements by her artists stressing the importance of not being in New York and working in a brave new world where they could be completely open to new ways of making art. She provides a particularly amusing story of painter Robert Irwin taking a New York critic on a tour of the local Kustom Kar Kulture of Los Angeles but the critic could not imagine that painting a car could possibly be “art.” Irritated and impatient with such close-mindedness, Irwin put the critic out of the car and onto the highway and left the man standing beside the road. Such is the fate of those who do not heed the future and the future is in Los Angeles.

Read this Valentine of a book, you will thoroughly enjoy it.