Excellent and Accessible: Art in Multiples

The current exhibition at Marian Goodman, Multiples, Inc.: 1965-1992, curated by Dieter Schwarz, includes 150 works by 70 artists. The show is titled after the name of the publishing company that Goodman founded with four partners in 1965, which became the backbone for her eponymous gallery that opened in 1977. The impetus for their endeavor was to produce art in multiple as a more egalitarian way of both working and producing, thus giving artists a chance to experiment with and explore larger themes in their work without the expense and time that a larger work would necessitate. Reducing costs of producing and distributing their works would thereby give artists the potential to reach a much larger audience.

I could not wait to see this show, thrilled at the reminder of this project that started half a century ago. The current exhibition is a testament both to the multifarious interests of their creators and to the wide range of materials they used. Works range from the predictable editions of prints and photographs to more unconventional items such as soft sculptures, cabinets, cut outs, jewelry, and objects in series.

Though the pieces are smaller in size and perhaps less time-consuming to create than a larger painting, sculpture or installation would be, they are significant for the way they reveal the character of the artist in focusing on the questions they were exploring in their larger studio or artistic practices. By choosing to concentrate on smaller works, the artist is allowed to work through materials and ideas while expending less labor and expense in producing results that are more tangible than mere sketches.

Robert Rauschenberg, Plot, 1973, Screenprint, embossing and collage (printed reproductions and brown paper bag) on India W.C. paper, 32 x 23 in., ed. of 100

Highlighted in the exhibit are works by prominent and lesser-known artists. Robert Rauschenberg’s 1973 editioned print-collage, Plot, presages his interest in combining reproduced and pre-made images with drawing and ready-made objects, in this case a brown paper bag. It is easy to reproduce and affix the mass-produced, uniform, paper bag. Robert Smithson, too, works with materials and concepts he later developed into earth works involving machinery and large swaths of land. Here he has two pieces, both tagged Untitled (Mirror Stratum), that use mirrors to alter one’s space perceptions. They function in a similar shape- and self-shifting way as an earthwork. The difference, of course, is that very few people will be able to travel to see Spiral Jetty, much less helicopter over it, but many more could access and walk around these sculptures to experience a sense of dis- and re-location. And there are works by Sol LeWitt, whose wall or room drawings take months to produce and then cannot be moved or viewed by those outside of that particular space. Here, LeWitt has the chance to explore more readily instructions and their spatial implications, and share those ideas more widely.

Front: Robert Smithson, Untitled (Mirror Stratum), 1967, 20 elements; mirrored glass 4 1/2 x 8 x 8 in., ed. of 25; Back: Robert Smithson, Untitled (Mirror Stratum), 1967, 30 elements; mirrored glass 6 3/4 x 12 1/8 x 12 1/8 in., ed. of 25
Left: Sol LeWitt, Cube / Base, 1967, Baked enamel on steel Cube: 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in., Base: 1/4 x 10 x 10 in., ed. of 25; Right: Sol LeWitt, Project Box, 1990, Acrylic and drawing ink on cherry wood, silk lining, Hydrocote finish 8 x 8 x 8 in., ed. of 10 plus 5 artist’s proofs

Several pieces challenge the notion of photograph or print as flat and individual and expand the notion of editioning in each of these media. In Double French Money, Larry Rivers uses plexiglass cut-outs to introduce texture and physical depth while preserving the ability to produce identical pieces readily, thus demonstrating the replicability of works beyond photography or printmaking.

Left: Barnett Newman, The Moment, 1966, Screenprint on Plexiglas, mounted on paperboard, on wood stretcher 48 3/4 x 5 x 1 in., ed. of 125 plus 16 artist’s proofs; Right: Larry Rivers, Double French Money, 1965, Screenprint on rag board with Plexiglas overlay and 10 Plexiglas cutouts mounted to screenprint, 30 3/8 x 32 1/4 x 1 in., ed. of 125 plus 16 artist’s proofs

Ed Ruscha’s six-part screenprint installation, Insects, is at once easy to relate to and easy to get lost in. The familiarity, simplicity and humor of the insects portrayed add a lightness that belies its compositional structure and its bow into abstraction. Dennis Oppenheim, Projects: A Portfolio of 10 Original Lithographs Documenting Projects Executed between 1968 and 1972, works with photographs, but rather than producing single images that communicate individually, he combines multiple images on a single page in order to change the focus from the preciousness of single images per page into something that produces, in one space and in one look, a narrative component.

Ed Ruscha, Insects, 1972, 6 screenprints in raw linen-covered box with plastic cover encapsulating brownish-red soil, Sheet: 20 1/8 x 27 in., ed. of 100 plus 15 artist’s proofs
Dennis Oppenheim, Projects: A Portfolio of 10 Original Lithographs Documenting Projects Executed between 1968 and 1972, 1973, 10 lithographs on Arches Cover paper with title page, in portfolio 30 x 22 in. each, and 6 frames: 32 1/8 x 24 1/4 x 1 3/8 in. and 4 frames: 24 3/8 x 32 1/4 x1 3/8 in., ed. of 81

Certainly some multiples are more labor-intensive to reproduce, such as Claes Oldenburg’s Miniature Soft Drum Set, which are more in the realm of “otherness” compared with the rest of the show’s offerings. Each sculpture is the same form, with the same-size piece of material, but the act of sewing to bring them together is subject to hand shifts and differences. After further consideration, it seems the technique resembles one of pulling multiple prints from the same plate. With each pass, the inking or the pressure might vary slightly, resulting in minute differences in individual pieces within the edition. This piece thus capably serves to expand the viewer’s understanding of multiples.

Claes Oldenburg, Miniature Soft Drum Set, 1969, Screenprint and sprayed enamel on canvas, clothesline, wood, screenprint on paper on wood base, in wooden box, with 2 color screenprinted lid, illustrated sheet, titled “Some Positions for the Miniature Soft Drum Set,” with colophon page 9 3/4 x 19 x 13 3/4 in., ed. of 200 plus 26 artist’s proofs

The question, then, becomes what separates these works from craft? A work of art without purpose can be sold in multiples and at a price that is reachable, as craft tends to cost less than fine art. However, there remains a quest in these works that the artist is not working necessarily with an end goal but working through thoughts and processes that are part of an ongoing, lifelong search. The “quest versus product” notion is a significant one that separates these pieces from craft. The notion of use value is also absent from works of art, whereas many instances of craft produce objects that are useable. While distinctions between craft and fine art can be a significant conversation, it’s uncertain how much the distinction matters here – another democratic result from this show.

A few pieces do cross a line of usability, however. Sue Fuller’s Untitled looks like it could be a paperweight. It is a cube that holds what look to be infinite spirals, reminding me of a three-dimensional drawing like one my daughter might make using her spirograph. Fred Eversley’s two cast polyester, semi-transparent pieces, both titled Circular Flight, could function similarly.

Sue Fuller, Untitled, 1966/1967, Nylon string, acrylic 3 x 3 x 3 in., ed. of 25 plus 1 artist’s proof
Left: Fred Eversley, Circular Flight, 1972, Cast polyester, 3 concentric layers (violet, amber, and blue) 8 x 8 x 11 1/2 in., ed. of 25; Right: Fred Eversley, Circular Flight, 1972, Cast polyester, 3 concentric layers (violet, amber, and blue) 8 x 8 x 11 1/2 in., ed. of 25

One particular piece in many ways encapsulates the message to be taken from this show, and a message that needs to be reinforced in the art world. It is a recording collaboration with Merce Cunningham Dance Company that includes works by John Cage, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. The piece includes seven prints, one by each artist and each recording a collaboration or interaction with Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol A portfolio of 7 prints recording collaborations with Merce Cunningham and Dance Company, 1974, ed. of 100 plus 30 artist’s proofs

The piece illustrates another beautiful possibility for multiples – collaboration and the bringing together of so many important figures into a single work that can be accessed by many, thus putting the art work before the eyes of a more general public. There seems to be no other way that works by these major artists could ever be seen or even owned by someone other than a mega collector.

It has become the norm that art is a commodity that lives too often beyond the view of only a few people. This project and these works demonstrate a more egalitarian approach to art. As an artist myself, I can attest to the impetus to share work with others. During this pandemic year, there has been a trend for artists to produce smaller and less expensive works – out of an immediate need to connect with people – something that is more readily and successfully achieved through accessibility. Let art be a bigger part of our culture. Let it be more approachable, less scary or elitist to so many.

Let’s end with the palm-size version of Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture. Despite its diminutive size, it calls to mind the title character in John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany, who speaks in all caps, and it practically screams: LOVE FOR ALL.

Robert Indiana LOVE, 1966 Aluminum, hand-cut and mirror-finished 12 x 12 x 6 in., ed. of 6

Multiples, Inc.: 1965-1992, Curated by Dieter Schwarz

On view at Marian Goodman Gallery through February 27


Katherine Keltner is a Brooklyn-based artist whose body of work includes paintings; drawings; photo-based, mixed media collages; installations; and artist’s books. Her work has been exhibited at galleries and art fairs nationally and internationally. Keltner is a co-editor and writer for POVarts. She is currently at work on an oral history project of Barbara Rose which will become part of the Getty Research Institute’s permanent collection.

All photos by the author.

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