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.

[email protected]

Art in San Francisco, 1940-1950

ART IN SAN FRANCISCO

1940-1950

San Francisco was the center of high culture on the West Coast, boasting an opera and art museums and art schools while Los Angeles was a provincial oil town. Remarkably, the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, was established in 1871.The H. M. de Young Memorial Museum honored the de Young family in 1895. The original building, which had been built for the California Midwinter International Exposition, was damaged by the Earthquake of 1906. The museum was rebuilt in 1929 and again in 2005. The College of Arts and Crafts was established in 1907, which became California College of Arts and Crafts in 1936 and the California College of Art a few years ago, almost a decade before Otis College of Art and Design was opened in Los Angeles. The Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, brought the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck, to the city on the Bay. Maybeck went on to become the designer of the Los Angeles Public Library. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park was built in competition with the de Young family, the family of Adolph and Alma Spreckels. In other words by the beginning of the twentieth century, San Francisco was the major and only site for art on the Left Coast.

As Nancy Boas points out in her book, The Society of Six: California Colorists, the artists who made up the Society of Six: August Gay, Bernard von Eichman, Maurice Logan, Louis Siegriest, and William H. Clapp were exposed to Impressionism in the 1915 exhibition. California produced its own “California Impressionists” or plein air painters who took inspiration from the colors of Monet and Renoir. These kinds of landscape artists, working in the clear and strong California light, could be found up and down the coast, depicting the extraordinary landscapes with a combination of post-Realism and late-Impressionism. Although we appreciate the Society of Six today, Boas mentions that these artists, like most of the landscape painters, were ignored in favor of more avant-garde art, which could actually be found in San Francisco.

In Painting on the Left. Diego Rivera, Radical Politics and San Francisco’s Public Murals, Anthony W. Lee points out that the Panama Pacific Exposition left an empty building behind, inspiring the idea of a San Francisco Museum of Art. The founding families of San Francisco were devoted art patrons and the family of railroad baron, Charles Crocker supported the idea of a museum, just as the family of Mark Hopkins had founded and art school. William Randolph Hearst also used the might of his newspaper to sponsor art in the city. Equally prominent in the effort to establish museums and art galleries in San Francisco was the legendary Bohemian Club. In fact the Galerie Beaux-Arts, founded by Beatrice Judd Ryan was a cooperative space and the first private gallery devoted to contemporary art, including artists who belonged to the Bohemian Club. Not to be outdone, the famous collector, Galka Scheyer, showed the Blue Four (Kandinsky, Klee, Jawlensky and Feininger) at the Oakland Art Gallery in 1926–27.

While the twenties might be remembered as a decade of building art patronage and art museums for the city, the thirties is marked by the powerful presence of Diego Rivera who left three major mural projects in the city: The Allegory of California for The San Francisco City Club, located in the Stock Exchange, The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City for The San Francisco Art Institute, and Pan American Unity for the San Francisco City College, located in the Diego Rivera Theater. For a fuller account of Rivera’s impact on the city, read Lee’s Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and in San Francisco’s Public Murals but the arrival of the artist in San Francisco announced the arrival of social realism, the prevailing style of the Depression. As would be typical of Rivera’s career, his mere reputation as a Communist, set off waves of anxiety in the city.

A reporter from Time Magazine paid a visit in September 1931 to the California School of Fine Arts to write of Rivera disrespectfully as “famed, fat and 40.” The article goes on to describe the artist’s “plump posterior squashed comfortably down on a plank” while he painted. Although the article was mostly descriptive and not entirely unfavorable, the reporter, who is not named, concluded his article, ”Art: Rivera in California,” with the final facts: “A huge, roly-poly man, he sometimes works 16 hours a day. Once he exhausted himself, fell off his scaffold, split his head.” Diego Rivera also found time to do a mural for the dining room of the Sigmund Stern (later transferred to Stern Hall at Berkeley) entitled Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees, 1930-1931.

But the period of the art patronage of the Works Progress Administration and the age of murals with social content had arrived, so too was the antithesis, the European avant-garde in the person of Hans Hofmann who arrived at Berkeley, in the summers of 1930 and 1931. Although Hofmann would go back and forth between Germany and America for the next few years, in 1934, he received his permanent visa and remained in America. Hofmann pointed the way to the future direction of the painters in San Francisco, but there were other modernist contenders in the Bay Area. Erle Loran, devotee of Paul Cézanne who had lived in his studio in 1927,would become famous for his formalist diagrams of Cézanne’s works, published in 1943. In 1936, Loran established Cubism as dominant mode at Berkeley, but, as can be imagined but there was a gulf between the Berkeley School and the followers of Rivera.

By the time the Second World War broke out, San Francisco had a thriving art scene, with contending perspectives on art. Presiding over what would be an important shift from European Modernism to American contemporary art, was the newly established San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art. Opening in 1935 with Grace L. McCann Morley as its first director. It was unusual if not outright rare for a woman to have such an important and influential position and Morley made adventurous and farsighted important purchases, such as Arschile Gorky’s Enigmatic Combat (1941), which was exhibited in1943 and Jackson Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret (1943), exhibited 1945. At that time, both artists were unknowns, but these two purchases would begin the foundation of what would become an important West Coast collection of Contemporary Art.

Indeed, Rivera returned to San Francisco to paint “art in action” mural to be displayed at World’s Fair on Treasure Island, 1940 and Gorky was in San Francisco the summer of 1941. But the time of one of these artists was ending in America and a new day was dawning. The California School of Fine Arts hired a new and ambitious director, Douglas MacAgy in 1945. MacAgy signaled that the old was out and that the new was in when he draped Rivera mural at the school. Another signal that it was not only the end of mural era was Clay Spohn, who instigated what would later become a West Coast outpost of late, late Dada when he organized the “Museum of Unknown and Little Known Objects” in 1941 at CSFA. Some day this iconoclastic impulse would be known as “funk.” The rest of the faculty included the famed photographer, Ansel Adams, and the painters David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Hassel Smith. It was at the School of Fine Arts that East Coast Abstract Expressionism arrived and changed the artistic landscape of San Francisco.

The powerful and impressive artist and art teacher, Clyfford Still made his career between New York and San Francisco, teaching at CSFA starting in 1946. He took an unlikely trip to Richmond Professional Institute, a vocational school in 1944 and moved to New York in 1945. Still who did large, dryly painted abstract works had one of the last shows with Peggy Guggenheim in 1946 before she left for Europe. Still had a romantic notion of the role of the artist, who he saw as a persona set apart from ordinary people. From 1947, he refused to allow his works to be shown in commercial gallery, but he allowed Betty Parsons to represent him. He taught his students that museums should come to them for their art, not the other way around. To make sure that his flock was beholden to no one, Still founded the Metart Galleries in San Francisco. This was an alternative space, a co-op where he and twelve of his students, co-op could show their art.

Clyfford Still’s exhibition at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in 1947 marked the death of the School of Paris and established CSFA as the counterpart to the “Berkeley School.” For his part, Loren was not impressed with Abstract Expressionism, about which he said, “We call it the drip school, even the shit school. It was pretty repulsive,” he continued. ”We saw it as a revolt as Hofmann’s and our teaching—which was very concrete, and based on real knowledge—Giotto and so on.” In retrospect, this statement by Loren seems odd, given the impetus that Hofmann had given to Abstract Expressionism in New York. However, Loren seems to have wanted the development of Cubism-Expressionism to be stopped at the point of synthesis seen in Hofmann’s work and not imaginatively extended to abstraction. Still continued his strong presence in San Francisco and at the California School of Fine Arts by starting a graduate painting class at a time when many veterans of the Second World War were returning to school, picking up the pieces of their interrupted lives. However, in 1950, Still left San Francisco and returned to New York, were a very different art scene was poised to become very important indeed.

Despite the powerful local objections from the art department at the University of California, Berkeley, by 1950, Abstract Expression was an accepted style in San Francisco, As Thomas Albright pointed out in Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980, the local “resistance” the style had been “exaggerated.” Given the general acceptance and promotion of the style as being quintessentially American, it is odd that in the histories of Abstract Expressionism, San Francisco is often left out and its importance in developing the large-scale works of important artists is less well known than that of New York City. One can assume the relative lack of emphasis is due to the fact that the Bay Area developed its own “brand” of expressionism, which was not abstract but figurative. In other words, painting in the Bay Area did not follow the orthodoxy of New York art critic Clement Greenberg who insisted that the proper destiny for avant-garde art was total abstraction. That said, two of the most important abstract painters, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, emerged from the Bay Area Figurative School. It was Still who encouraged Rothko towards abstraction and towards larger canvases while they were working together at the California College of Fine Arts.

Although Clyfford Still left San Francisco for New York permanently in 1949 and resigned in 1950, a more accessible and more congenial teacher, Mark Rothko, was on the CSFA campus between 1947 and 1949. Rothko was just emerging out of his figurative Surrealist phase when he began working with Still and it is during these important years in San Francisco that he transitioned away from his early Surrealism, typical of his generation and made a definitive move to a more reductive abstraction, reducing the number of shapes on the canvas and enlarging the forms. While Rothko shifted towards a simpler means of organizing areas of free floating paint, his “multiform,” and with Ad Reinhardt on campus in the summer of 1950, it seemed that CSFA was the place to be. “Under the leadership of Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko it is absolutely true that a new trend in painting has been marked off…it recalls the group feeling that we have read about among the French Impressionists,” Loren admitted. But the college’s moment had passed. After finding his mature and signature style in the Bay area, Rothko returned to New York in 1949. The warning bell signaling that Abstract Expression had peaked sounded in 1950, the year of Clay Spohn’s mocking last exhibition in which he left behind a book of “instructions” for Abstract Expressionism. In other words, the style was rapidly becoming academic, a “kit” of painterly gestures. Albright states that the Bay Area School was indeed “academic.” In New York, the academic was becoming marketable and profitable.

Perhaps Douglas MacAgy sensed the winds shifting away from painterly gestures and personality cults for he left CSFA, because, as the story went, he was not able to hire Marcel Duchamp. Although no one would have predicted it at then time, Duchamp was destined to become a seminal artist for the remainder of the century, taking art in a conceptual direction. Leaving aside for the moment the strange spectacle of Duchamp teaching in an art college, MacAgy denied this version of why he left the school. He felt that the student body was changing from males wanting to be serious artists to females on the hunt for husbands and students who wanted to teach art rather than be artists. In other words, instead of Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis (who attended Berkeley and hung around Clyfford Still) as students, the college would go into a decline. MacAgy’s strangely sexist attitude and his willingness to disparage female students and women artists seems archaic today, but his conviction that the presence of the female automatically lowered the standards proved to be totally wrong–as the art of Jay de Feo and Joan Brown attests to this day.

With Still and MacAgy gone, other faculty followed. Ed Corbett and Spohn left shortly after, then Hassel Smith was dismissed by the new director and David Park and Elmer Bishchoff resigned to protest the change in direction of the college. But in those short years of development, the Bay Area artists created a very different sort of Abstract Expressionism with figuration. But the representational aspect is only part of the story. The New York painters were engaged in formal play with the tradition of European modernism, but the Bay Area artists responded to the landscape of the West Coast. Even when painting abstractly, Diebenkorn always had a sense of sea, land, sky, and moved easily from the colored zones of thick gestures to the deeply colored interiors with lone inhabitants. When he moved to Ocean Park in the sixties, Diebenkorn, flattened his canvases, simplifying that natural creases in the northern landscape into the stripes of the freeways of Los Angeles. Away from the Bay, the artist became totally abstract and never returned to figuration.

Figurative painters, Bishchoff and Park showed more of the outdoor life of Northern California with figures on the beach—once again sky, sea, land—all painted with broad strokes of paint laid on with the strength of Still and the zones of Rothko. In contrast, Hassel Smith and Frank Lobdell were drawers not painters, in other words they were draw-ers who painted in writerly wire-like gestures. In the end it was the thick and assertive approach to paint itself deployed by Bishchoff and Park that eventually characterized the Bay Area Figurative School. These artists utilized the gesture as style and technique used to paint large and powerful figures, often in sea scares or beach scares, rendered timeless by the deep strokes of pigment. What was left of the glory days of Bay Area Figuration, the group of painters more or less disbanded before the color school wing, inspired by Mark Rothko. of the Abstract Expressionists in New York became prominent in the sixties.

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

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

[email protected]