♥ NY Art Book Fair is a month-long series of posts focused on the exhibitors of the New York Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter, Inc., Nov. 5-7th at MoMA PS1, and sponsored in part by Opening Ceremony. Here, I interview Jeremy Sanders, founder of artists' book mecca, 6 Decades.
When an artist paints, sculpts, scrawls, performs, or otherwise produces an object, there is usually little time spent on discussing whether the output is art or not. When it comes to the artist's book, however, whether a reproduction, accompanying text, or individual art object itself, the question arises: is it art? Many have said no. Jeremy explains why he thinks they're wrong (and he has an intriguing collection to prove it).
Khira Jordan: When did you start 6 Decades?
Jeremy Sanders: I incorporated it this past summer--it's a brand new business. I was the director of Glenn Horowitz Booksellers in East Hampton for 4 years and, prior to that, I was with Ursus Books. I've been putting together an artist-based program in East Hampton for a while, but this is the first time it's specifically been my business. With 6 Decades, I put my money where my mouth is for something I've been passionate about for 27 years.
KJ: 6 Decades specializes in the artist's book, a contemporary art object you feel has garnered less recognition than other artistic mediums. Can you speak a little bit about why you chose to collect this genre of book?
JS: My point of view is very basic: these books are artworks. When I have worked with art collectors, it continues to surprise me that really passionate people who have amazing art collections across all sorts of media--painting, sculpture, drawing, video work, performance stills--have, off to the side somewhere, their reference library with a few artists' books in there, but they don't really consider them art. One thing I come back to is Sol LeWitt's commentary about how, for many artists working today, books are their best medium. It's a medium through which they are able to express themselves best and get their ideas across better than in any other format. Furthermore, it's a more intimate form being distributed widely, so a college student in Oregon like me could experience it. The point I'm trying to express with this business is, this is art
. If you're an art collector, this is for your art collection. There shouldn't be a distinction drawn.
KJ: When did you begin collecting art books?
JS: When I was in college. I was an Art History student who didn't believe that I had any sort of artistic talent, but I began to recognize that it didn't require that I draw like Albert Dürer to have some sort of creative expression in a contemporary way. I learned that there was a different way of making art--not just oil paintings or marble sculptures, which is what I'd been studying. Even back then, out there in the sticks in Portland, the whole idea of artists' books meant that art could be easily experienced--you didn't necessarily have to be in New York City or Paris or London or Los Angeles to experience an actual work of art.
KJ: Is there a book you look to as definitive on the subject?
JS: Oh yeah, Book As Artwork 1960/1972
by Germano Celant--the first book ever published on the book as art form--which 6 Decades has just reissued. This is sort of my big project--I basically found this book by accident, but it ended up being a real eye-opener for me. Then I realized not many people knew about it, and was also told it was impossible to find. Celant's take on artists' books from the very beginning was a really interesting one. And in realizing how difficult it was to find the original, it eventually became clear that I had to put it back out into the world.
KJ: What do you find most noteworthy about Book As Artwork?
JS: There are a lot of artists in this book who have gone on to become extremely well known, but there are also a lot of other people who are less well known--virtually unknown. I've used this book to get in touch with a lot of these artists and to dig up a lot of interesting material, using it as a way to expand my and other people's idea of what this medium has been all about. It has become common for us to describe artists like, "Okay, well, he wrote during the 60's in Europe, or he painted in LA in the early 60's and...that's it." I think that maybe with time, we can gain some perspective, and realize that we oversimplified the picture. I'm hoping that this is another opportunity--now that this book is out there--for more people to expand the field of book-as-artwork.
KJ: Are there any humorous or interesting inscriptions or scrawlings that you've found in any of these books?
JS: Oh yeah, there are oftentimes really interesting inscriptions. Some that I think are the most interesting are when one artist has inscribed his book to another. And I think that with artists' books, they are such an artist's medium that it's really something we collectors have appreciated. I have one involving Bruce Nauman who made a series of photos called Flower Arrangements
, where he had taken white flowers and wheat flowers, and arranged them in various shapes and structures on the floor of the studio and took pictures of them. People didn't understand his work and really savaged him. So, his good friend Dennis Oppenheim made this lovely book of flower arrangements and published it basically for Bruce Nauman. It was almost like a sweet little "Get Well" card gesture to his buddy, who was having a difficult time, but at the same time it was a tongue-and-cheek thing. It was one of those rare times where you see the private communication between artists in a public forum--but some people miss it because they aren't really paying attention.
KJ: Is there a yet-to-be-acquired book that you've been on the hunt for?
JS: I unfortunately have a long list! More recently, there was the book that got away--I felt like it was within my grasp for a minute, but slipped away. It's a series of books by John Stezaker, a British artist who has been around for a long time, and who I only recently discovered 4 or 5 years ago (around the same time that the art world in general was rediscovering him, realizing he was a major figure who, for one reason or another, hadn't really gotten the credit that was due to him). There are virtually no copies of his books--even in major museums that have really, really extensive collections. Even private collectors--who are the sort of people who have everything--still don't have these books. So, I was put in touch with John Stezaker, who was on holiday at the time, and he said, "Oh yeah, actually, I know I've got some of these somewhere--in boxes in the garage or something. But I'm away right now, so when I get back, I'll search for them and I'll let you know." So, this idea that, not only could I find one for myself, but there might be a box full of them--amazing! I was picturing the day that I could call up all these people I know who would be very excited. But when I got in touch with him a few weeks later, he hadn't had a chance to look for them. And then four weeks ago, I checked in again and he said, "You know, I just couldn't find them. They gotta be around here somewhere, but I just can't find them." Who knows, it could be one of those stories where, you know, someone's mom threw away all their baseball cards.
NY Art Book Fair