Books On Books Collection – Heimo Zobernig


Heimo Zobernig
Paperback. H297 x W210 mm. 32 unnumbered pages in two signatures. Edition of 500, of which this is #427. Acquired from Les Presses du Reel, 18 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Starting with his first solo exhibit in the US, Heimo Zobernig placed a 115 cm high letter A in black adhesive vinyl foil on a wall near the entrance to the Robbin Locket Gallery in Chicago.

That was in 1990. By 1992 and twenty-five more exhibits later, he had accumulated a complete alphabet, the Z appearing on the ticket counter for Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany. The literary magazine Freibord (Vienna) published Zobernig’s photographic alphabetic record of his exhibitions in its centenary issue (1997). With Zobernig’s cover design, IF Publications (Barcelona) has produced Alphabet for the first time as an artist’s book. Here is the artist’s alphabet book as intervention over time. As the cover’s title and absence of color in these letters suggests, though, “But wait, there’s more”.

At the center of the photographed alphabet’s 16 pages measuring H297 x W210 mm, another 16-page signature measuring H210 x W150 appears, showing the numeral 2 in 220pt Helvetica on its cover, then the numerals 11 and 10 on the first double-page spread, then 3 and an upside-down 7 on the next spread. On the tenth unnumbered page, the word — FARBEN — appears. As if the numeric disorder were not puzzling enough, the numerals and letters are all in black despite the word FARBEN meaning “COLORS”. At the end of the book, Moritz Küng, the book’s editor, provides two crucial insights for untangling the puzzle.

First, that from the mid-1980s, Zobernig selected fifteen combinations of CMYK to define a palette from which he would not deviate until the early part of this century. Second, that the center signature self-referentially reflects on the principle of imposition (how sheets are printed and folded into signatures). Each number in the center brochure belongs to one of Zobernig’s fifteen CMYK combinations. From the top left of one side of the sheet to the bottom right of the other side of the sheet, Zobernig placed “right reading” numerical representations of these color combinations so that, when the sheet is folded and trimmed to form the booklet, the numbers and title appear in their strange orientation. This orientation that calls attention to the mechanics of the inside booklet’s creation results in the numeral 2 appearing on its cover, seemingly labelling the booklet within a booklet as the second of two volumes. Yet the cover of the outer booklet indicates that FARBEN comes first.

The seemingly contrary self-referencing abstraction does not end there. Or rather, if we stick with the cover of FARBEN ALPHABET with Küng’s clues in mind, it resolves itself. Just as Zobernig’s black and white alphabetic labels abstractly introduced his color-rich 1990-92 exhibitions, the other side of FARBEN ALPHABET’s black and white cover displays cyan, magenta, yellow and black panels, otherwise known as CMYK, the color alphabet from whose combinations Zobernig’s abstract expressionist art is created. Paradoxically, though, Zobernig’s FARBEN ALPHABET challenges such reductive labelling. Abstraction does not merely yield labels, he seems to suggest. It yields art through process and form — such as alphabetizing exhibitions to generate an artist’s alphabet book.

CMYK (2013)

CMYK (2013)
Heimo Zobernig
Perfect bound in glossy card, glossy text paper. H160 x W140 cm. 36 pages. Edition of 300, of which this is #214. Acquired from Pia Jardí, 26 October 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the additive color model RGB, white includes all the primary colors — red, green and blue — of the light spectrum, and black is the absence of light. In the subtractive color model CMYK — cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) — white is the absence of any ink leaving the natural color of the paper as the white background on which the combination of all the CMY inks yields black. What better cover for CMYK than pure white paper. Just as Farben Alphabet uses the A-Z alphabet and printing imposition to play with our expectations, this artist’s booklet uses the letters of the color model, the colored inks and the printing process to play with our expectations. C is overlapped by M, then CM is overlapped by Y, and, to yield the letter K, CMY are combined. From there, the booklet cycles through subtracting the letters in reverse, adding them back and so on.

This conceptual, process-driven artist’s booklet, arising from a multi-artist exhibition curated by Pia Jardí for the Open Structure Art Society (OSAS) in Budapest, makes for an interesting contrast with Amy Lapidow’s Spiralbet (1998), Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A to Z (2003), Annesas Appel’s Ruiten Alfabet (2006), Carol DuBosch’s Rainbow Alphabet Snowflake (2013) or Rebecca Bingham’s Rainbow (2018).

Further Reading/Viewing

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Rebecca Bingham“. Books On Books Collection.

Carol DuBosch“. 13 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Karen Hanmer“. 25 October 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Amy Lapidow“. Books On Books Collection.

Jardí, Pia. n.d. “Heimo Zobernig“. Website. Accessed 1 September 2022.

Küng, Moritz. 3 July 2020. Artists’ Books Clips por Moritz Küng. Episode 06 Alphabet Books. Accessed 18 September 2022.

Küng, Moritz. 25 June 2020. Artists’ Books Clips por Moritz Küng. The tautological book. Part 1. Accessed 18 September 2022.

Bookmarking Book Art – Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, Vienna, 28 January 2018

Last Sunday, 28 January 2018, this ambitious exhibition curated by Luca Lo Pinto closed.

The metonymic metaphor of the glazed roof tiles’ evoking the concept of “home” in support of  the individual and common ritual experience of reading as being translated into space is a bit topsy turvy if not strained. Overall, though, the effect was pleasing, playful and distinctively European (as was the selection of artists) in the cast concrete hall. The simultaneous warmth and cold of the color proved a pleasing contrast with the items displayed, although its glare and the occasional protective plexiglas made viewing and photographing a challenge.

In Section 01 Artists’ Library and propped on stainless steel shelves were artists’ own publications and choices of books from 1989 to 2017 that have influenced their view of publishing. So then, with the usual sly humor of book art, we have “artists’ books” and artists’ “books” — from Cory Arcangel to Heimo Zobernig.

Arcangel’s The Source Digest (from his series in which he rings the changes on selling us annotated source code in varying metaphorically driven and recursive manifestations) struck the first of several common notes in the exhibition: the digitally driven artist’s book. At the far end of the hall, in Section 05 Expanded Publishing, Antoine Lefebvre‘s La Bibliotheque Fantastique (an online library of free artists’ books) echoed that note and added one of its own: book art’s genre-reflexive, form-reflexive and self-reflexive tradition.

The ninety-item display is a genre-reflexive nod to series such as Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlet series. One row here on its own embodies multiple forms of reflexivity: Jérémie Bennequin‘s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard. 

Bennequin’s homage is the result of a decomposition performance in which he and Lefebvre — sometimes each in two different cities — decompose Mallarmé’s poem by rolling a die then locating and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. 

The title’s missing “s” from “Dés”the subtitle’s missing “h” from “homage” and its isolation of  “dé” in the hyphenation of “decomposition” pun self-reflexively — as book art so often does — underscoring here the paradoxical technique of creation/de-creation. 

Section 02, devoted to periodicals and zines, occupied the most space in the hall. Although the coverage was wide, it seemed odd not to find Brad Freeman’s Journal of Artists’ Books or Sarah Bodman’s Bookarts Newsletter or The Blue Notebook. But Lo Pinto did not set out to present the encyclopedia of everything within each compartment of the toolbox. The unexpected — like Lefebvre’s display — and the provocative depth of resonance within Section 01 and across sections more than made up for omissions of the expected.

Among the “interventions” in Section 03 The Medium as Message was Michael Riedel‘s Frieze CMYK (2007), now, like so many other items in the exhibition, out of print — a reality-imposed dollop of self-reflexive irony given Riedel’s paradoxical view that an exhibition must generate ephemera to live on.

As with the echoing Section 05 that sent me back to look at Arcangel’s contribution in Section 01, the color play of Riedel’s Frieze CMYK returned me to Tauba Auerbach’s entry in Section 01. But I was misremembering and thinking of her work titled 2,3, (2011), RGB Color Atlas (2011) and their color play. On display here was her Z Helix (2014) behind plexiglas. Only the interlocking blue and red spiral bindings hinted at the color inside.

Strolling back to Section 05 and thinking of the physicality as well as color of Auerbach’s works, I stopped at Section 04 Autoretrospective, which focused on Philippe Thomas’ fictitious ad agency readymades belong to everyone® that he “installed” in the Cable Gallery in New York in 1987.  The section’s title seems ironically unfair to Thomas’ self-effacing, deconstructivist intent. Given what was on display in Vienna, it was inescapably — like the mythological World Turtles — Thomas “all the way down”. Perhaps there is something to the row-upon-row of roof tiles metaphor after all.

The remaining sections — one being a space for performances and readings, another a screen showing the home page of Silvio Lorusso’s Post-Digital Publishing Archive and another entirely elsewhere in the city — began to push the limits of the senses and imagination to make up for that lack of three-dimensionality that limited the impact of Auerbach’s and others’ shelves. (It was commendable, however, that visitors were allowed to touch the works not behind plexiglas.)

Being familiar with Lorusso’s site, I looked back over the roof top shelves and wall projections and momentarily found myself slipping into that  “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions … in every nation, … A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data” (William Gibson’s definition of “cyberspace” from Neuromancer, New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1989, p. 128). As with all white cube spaces, though, the physical arrangement did not fail to reassert itself and draw me out of the exhibition through Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium, which much like Sections 01 through 05 offered unexpected tangible and intangible compensations.

Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium
Austellungsansicht: Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017, Kunsthalle, Wien
Photo by Stephen Wyckoff

As noted at the beginning, an ambitious exhibition: one also reminiscent of Germano Celant’s  effort in 1973 Book as Artwork 1960/1972.  With the hope for more to come from this talented curator and the artists and publishers gathered, here are some favorites on the way out … best enjoyed with the downloaded or printed catalog close to hand (links after the favorites).

For a copy of the catalogue/journal, go to

See the following for interviews with the curator Luca Lo Pinto about the exhibition: