Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964
Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris, Fondation Calouste-Gulbenkian.
Photo by Robert Bolick, 11 April 2015.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.
The Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei specializes in original texts and book art by twentieth century visual and literary avant-garde artists such Baldessari, Lewitt, Munari, Man Ray, Ruscha and Warhol among others. Recently the owner’s son – Giulio Maffei – “started making film as a side activity” and introduced a series of short animations “to put on the social networks and reach new potential customers”. An anonymous pair of hands displays a variety of the books and book art in stock.
But Giulio’s videos are not always the straightforward marketing effort intended. They provide an experience of book art or artists’ books that most of us will never hold or touch. And that may be Maffei’s point in his series “Le Vite dei Libri” (The Lives of Books) in which these usually glassed-off works are playfully handled, gently made fun of and still honored.
Some of the videos are derivative artworks in their own right in the same vein as Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968. Nauman poked fun at Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, by composing a book of photos recording the burning of a copy of Various Small Fires. Maffei’s Nauman-esque handling of Various Small Fires and Milk involves flash paper or its Photoshop equivalent. His celebration of Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip is still more endearing with its soundtrack and toy convertible. His cheeky animations of the pop-ups in Warhol’s Index (Book) and the ironically daring destruction of Papa Maffei’s copy of Some/Thing No.3 are even better. In the latter, the plastering of a Banksy-like mural with Warhol’s “Bomb Hanoi” stickers torn from the perforated cover is a sharp-edged example of the arch, reflective commentaries throughout Maffei’s videos.
Most of the films’ credits pay typographical homage to the work at hand, which is a nice self-deprecating and affectionate touch. At my last viewing, there were twenty-two works in the Lives series. They are listed below, but once you reach one on YouTube, the others follow. Giulio Maffei has also created a longer video catalogue for his father’s enterprise: Tra Libro e Oggetto (Between Book and Object). The Maffeis are a knowing team. The catalog title can be read as the beginning of a statement displayed on the cover.
BETWEEN BOOK AND OBJECT
The artists’ book, the multiple and the object
become an artwork
A statement that refers not only to the works in the catalog but to the video catalog itself and to the elder Maffei’s lifework of collecting, selling and writing about book art.
1 – An Unreadable Quadrat Print, Bruno Munari
2 – The Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha
3 – Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha
4 – Various Small Fires, Ed Ruscha
5 – Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book, Andy Warhol
6 – Choosing Green Beans, John Baldessari
7 – Kleve 2009, Ettore Spalletti
8 – Made in Machine, Jean-François Bory
9 – Cieli ad Alta Quota, Alighiero Boetti
10 – Il Merlo Ha Perso il Becco, Bruno Munari
11 – Mémoires, Guy Debord, Asger Jorn
12 – Zang Tumb Tuuum, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
13 – Acervus, Luigi Ontani
14 – Toiletpaper JAN 2011, Maurizio Cattelano & Pierpaolo Ferrari
15 – Toiletpaper JUL 2012, Maurizio Cattelano & Pierpaolo Ferrari
16 – Les Illuminations, Fernand Léger & Arthur Rimbaud
17 – Man Ray, Man Ray
18 – The Biggest Art-Book in the World, Enrico Baj
19 – Fable, John Baldessari
20 – Air Condition, Allan Kaprow
21 – Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), Andy Warhol
22 – Some/Thing No.3, ed. David Antin, cover by Andy Warhol