Books On Books Collection – Antoine Lefebvre

I Can’t Breathe (2015)

I Can’t Breathe (2015)
Antoine Lefebvre
Saddle-stitched with staples. Digital print. 16 pages. H218 x W178 mm. Edition of 100 copies. Acquired from the artist, 29 August 2020.

I Can’t Breathe is the first publication made under Lefebvre’s imprint. He labels it a “zine” and calls it a “gut reaction” to the murder of Eric Garner. Lefebvre is one of several book artists who have lifted up Garner’s last words or his name since 17 July 2014. The work makes its simple but powerful statement by bordering the cover’s monumental black square with white and enveloping the eleven utterances of Garner’s last words in a field of white.

Monument to the Third International (2015)

Monument to the Third International (2015)
Antoine Lefebvre
Book object, 200 x 150 x 50 mm (closed), 350 mm diameter (open). Edition of 12 + 4 AP, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 29 August 2020.

The second work under his own imprint, this sculptural artist’s book pays homage to Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructivist tower design for a monument to the Communist International, known as the Comintern or Third International, which lasted from 1919 to 1943.

When opened along its horizontal axis, the work echoes the shape of Tatin’s tower design. Also, when closed, the book’s fore-edge mimics the 1964 version of Dan Flavin’s “Monument” For V. Tatlin, bringing it into the category of “homage to an homage”, such as Michalis Pichler’s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé or, from genres other than book art, Johan Karlsson’s homage to Vera Molnár’s homage to Albrecht Durer or, to stretch a point, Nam June Paik’s homage to Albers’ Homage to the Square or Andrew Wenrick’s homage to the same.

Tatin (1920), Flavin (1964), Lefebvre (2015)

Lefebvre’s Monument is a ludic masterpiece to be read with the hands as well as the eyes. Its physicality and whiteness might remind the viewer “The White Heat”, organized by Marc Straus. Held, or looked at, in its closed state, it might recall the more somber Absence by J. Meejin Yoo.

Opening the work.

Closing the work.

Artiste Éditeur (2018)

Lefebvre first came to this collection’s attention at the exhibition “Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, Vienna, 28 January 2018”. His entry was an entire library —  La Bibliothèque Fantastique (2009-2013).

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Lefebvre thinks of himself not as an artist and publisher but rather as an “artist publisher” — artiste éditeur — which is the title of the book based on his dissertation. Lefebvre not only expounds his thesis in the pages of the book, he demonstrates — or rather realizes — it in La Bibliothèque Fantastique (LBF).

Artiste Éditeur (2018)
Antoine Lefebvre
H297 x W210 mm, 176 pages.

The works in LBF appropriate covers, titles, images and arguments in a way to enacts conversations among the appropriated, with Lefebvre and with the reader. The works draw on a wide variety of artists and writers: Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Joseph Beuys, Jorge Luis Borges, Ulises Carrión, Noam Chomsky, August von Cieszkowski, Guy Debord, Jacques Derrida, Marcel Duchamp, Michel Foucault, Ernst Gombrich, Georg Wilhelm Hegel, Joseph Kosuth, Jacques Lacan, Marshall McLuhan, Stéphane Mallarmé, A. Mœglin-Delcroix, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean Paul Sartre, Ferdinand de Saussure, Ludwig Wittgenstein and many others.

More than “drawing on” the appropriated, LBF draws their thoughts into the digital twentieth and twenty-first centuries conversation about artists’ books and book art. Two of Lefebvre’s more discursive contributions to LBF constitute an “artist publisher” statement and a manifesto for LBF and himself:

… the books of LBF have no predetermined physical existence, they exist in a state of potentiality on the web, awaiting to become. They cost nothing, you can get them without spending a penny. They have no ISBN either, because they are works of art. They have no color, so that they can be printed in any printer. That’s what LBF books don’t have, which is almost more important than what they do, because our approach is conceived as a negative of that which is habitually proposed by the market spectacle society. The idea is to show various poetic singularities as opposed to the flashy commodities which our society feeds us.

What the LBF books do have is above all a great freedom of content, revealing a very large and global conception of art. They contain all forms of expression usually found in print, i.e., drawing and photographs, as well as essays, novels, journalistic investigations etc.

The covers of LBF books are invariably appropriated from existing sources, the published artists just select one and use it as a cover for their book. The author’s name is deleted and replaced by the name of the artist, the name of the original publisher is also cleared since the new book is no longer its property. The artist can also change the title of the book to enhance it. The content of the book is completely open, the artist develops it through the pages to meet his or her project. The books are produced with bits and pieces from other books, developing a discourse on the ontology of the book. This project seeks to examine the nature of the book by submitting it to the approaches similar to those used by minimalist artists to test the limits of painting and art. The purpose of LBF is to explore the boundaries of what is a book and and what is not.

For Lefebvre, 2018 must have felt like an annus mirabilis. Not only did LBF appear in the Vienna exhibition and Artiste Éditeur arrive, he opened a shop in Paris and called it 本 \hon\ books. Even in his entrepreneurship, Lefebvre is an appropriator/hommageur. The name 本 \hon\ books pays homage to Japanese second-hand bookstores but also, and not surprisingly, to Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965). Like Kosuth’s work, the shop’s name provides the same information in three formats: an ideogram, its Japanese pronunciation, and its translation (本 = book).

Perhaps it is because he works, thinks and creates with equal comfort in the digital and physical worlds or that he is international in outlook and language or that he happily inhabits the multiple roles of artist publisher, collaborator, appropriator, impresario and entrepreneur — for whatever reason, Antoine Lefebvre and his work bring a welcome élan to book art and this collection.

Further Reading

Challis, Ivy. “Artist Interview: Antoine Lefebvre of Everything is Index Nothing is History”, Recession Art, n.d. Accessed 15 September 2020.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Lefebvre, Antoine. Artiste Éditeur (Saint-Mâlo: Strandflat, 2018).

Lefebvre, Antoine. “I want to write a book“, La Bibliothèque Fantastique, 2011.

Lefebvre, Antoine. “La Bibliothèque Fantastique“, La Bibliothèque Fantastique, No. 13, 22 October 2009.

Matheny, Lynn Kellmanson. “Dan Flavin: A Retrospective”, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Accessed 15 September 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – A “white book report” on “The White Heat” at MARC STRAUS

Cardboard Box (White) for Invisible Text, “Called Back,” Epitaph for Emily Dickinson
Jeanne Silverthorne, 2017
Platinum silicone rubber, acid free paper, archival invisible ink
9 x 17 x 13 inches / 23 x 43 x 33 cm
Edition 1/3 with 1 A.P

Dare you see a soul at the white heat?
Then crouch within the door.
Red is the fire’s common tint;
But when the vivid ore
Has sated flame’s conditions,
Its quivering substance plays
Without a color but the light
Of unanointed blaze.
Least village boasts its blacksmith,
Whose anvil’s even din
Stands symbol for the finer forge
That soundless tugs within,
Refining these impatient ores
With hammer and with blaze,
Until the designated light
Repudiate the forge.    –  Emily Dickinson, Part One, Life, XXXIII

MARC STRAUS, the contemporary art gallery in the Lower East Side of New York, opened “an exhibition of white paintings and sculptures by an international selection of artists” on 3 June 2017. It runs through 3 July, and its title The White Heat comes from the first line of Dickinson’s poem above.

Books on Books offers this “white book report” on book art not included to put attendees in the mood for their experience of the works in white by artists such as

  • Damien Hirst
  • Nicole Eisenman
  • Enrico Castellani
  • Robert Barry
  • Fernanda Gomes
  • Antonio Santin
  • Jeanne Silverthorne
  • Joan Levison and others.

Book Faced Down – Embedded in Plaster, 1999
Found cook book and plaster block
Irwin Susskind, born 1935
34.6 x 20.9 x 6.5 cm (13 5/8 x 8 1/4 x 2 9/16 in.)
The Allan Chasanoff, B.A. 1961, Book Art Collection, curated with Doug Beube

Irwin Susskind‘s “Book Faced Down” is an example of the technique of mixed media – a stark white plaster block facing down the objectified cookbook –  to create book art. A piece of sheet cake, a cutting board?

Zurbarán’s Color Plates, 2011
Jonathan Callan
Chiseled book in perspex
46.4 × 71.1 × 5.7 cm

Jonathan Callan‘s piece denies viewers the colorful still lifes of Francisco de  Zurbarán and leaves them with this drained-of-color, chiselled double-page spread of a book on the artist.

Work of Linear – Actions, 2000
Noriko Ambe

Where Callan chisels away from the edges inward, Noriko Ambe carves from the inside almost to the edges in her work above.

Absence, 2004
J. Meejin Yoon

As the Straus exhibition notes, “In Chinese cultures, White is associated with Death.” In J. Meejin Yoon’s book Absence, the absence of color in a solid white block of thick stock cardboard pages and the “text” of one pinhole and two identical squares die-cut into each of its 120 pages – one for each story of New York’s Twin Towers including the antenna mast – lead the reader down through the missing buildings to the final page where the footprint of the absent structures ends in a die cut of the entire site of the World Trade Center.

Your House, 2006
Olafur Eliasson
Teixeira de Freitas, Lisboa, Portugal

Your House, 2006
Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson seems to have followed Yoon’s technical approach in Your House, 2006, although the effects are far more intricate.

Coral Colony, 2017 in progress
Julie K. Dodd

Untitled
Julie K. Dodd

Echoing Yoon’s somber note, Julie K. Dodd‘s paper and book art often dwell on environmental issues, such as the death of a coral colony above and the contours of the natural landscape versus manmade as shown in Untitled.

The Great Gathering,  VII The Time is Now, 2016
Chris Ruston
Photo credit: Chris Matthews

A more hopeful note is struck in the whiteness of Chris Ruston’s final “ammonite” book in the series The Great Gathering, inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The mirror under the maker’s tools and the made thing implicate the viewer here and now in an optimistic ongoing evolutionary process of making and remaking.

Michael Mandiberg, Print Wikipedia, 2015
Exhibition “From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!” by the Denny Gallery, 261 Broome Street in New York City, 18 June through 11 July, 2015.

Where the white of Yoon’s and Dodd’s works evokes absence and the white of Ruston’s work evokes the blank invitation to singular creativity, Michael Mandiberg‘s installation of multiples, Print Wikipedia, evokes the plenitude of white noise that is our online lives.

Swiss Army Book
Swiss Army Book, 1990
M. L. Van Nice
Gift of Lois Pollard Price
National Museum of Women in the Arts

And just as technologically allusive, M.L. Van Nice‘s Swiss Army Book poses (tongue in cheek?) the single volume as somehow able to capture, store and transmit knowledge in ways it need not, albeit the meaning of the whiteness here is a bit elusive.

Legal Process Narrative, 1996
Werner Pfeiffer
Law Library, University of Connecticut at Storrs

Werner Pfeiffer’s works constitute an extensive treatment in white. The installation at UConn Storrs represents a small proportion of the works shown in retrospectives in the last ten years at Bucknell, Cornell and the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Pfeiffer’s works touch on censorship, and from his Cornell exhibition, he explains:

The objects I create are made with real books. They are not casts, nor are they sculpted imitations. At its core each piece has bound, printed pages. Glued together and painstakingly covered with gesso, they are silenced and sealed for good. I practice this destruction, this obvious censorship, simply as metaphor. It is to visualize, to demonstrate, to provoke. For these acts of violence are not about the damage done to stacks of paper, to books. The objects are about the harm inflicted on the human spirit. The ropes, the nails, the clamps, the hooks and knifes are real as well. They are symbols of pain, of torture, of suppression which are inevitably brought on by the censor’s act.

Knotty Story
Werner Pfeiffer

Difficult to Fit
Werner Pfeiffer

With the advent of ebooks, Pfeiffer celebrates the tangibility of the book with his white gessoed book objects and their punning titles as well as origami-like works such as Zig-Zag.

But back to the white works of art at the MARC STRAUSS gallery.  Book art is not entirely neglected. Following in their tradition since 1984, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (“Kids of Survival”) pondered, discussed and “jammed” on 1895 novella by H.G. Wells to produce THE TIME MACHINE (after H.G.Wells), which is included in the exhibition.

THE TIME MACHINE (after H.G. Wells)
Tim Rollins and K.O.S., 2013
Matte acrylic, pencil, book pages on canvas
4 parts, each: 12 x 12 inches / 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Overall: 24 x 24 inches / 61 x 61 cm
Courtesy Studio K.O.S. and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

According to the artists, “We believe that every total work of art is a time machine – a synthesis of a living past and present located in an object that can only be completed by the social experience of a viewer in the future. The total work of art exists in the invisible fourth dimension of space/time and it is this notion that unites the works in the exhibition. We paint on historic texts in the present so that they can haunt our futures.”

Suitably prepared? Jump in your time machine and head over to 299 Grand Street, on the Lower East Side in New York, and immerse yourself in “The White Heat“.