Represented by a blown-up newspaper obituary pinned to the wall, the scrappy, DIY spirit of punk impresario Malcolm McLaren presides over this informal survey of photocopy books curated by Neville Wakefield. The photocopy machine, as Wakefield writes in the press release, is “the model T of reprography. It democratized reproduction as Henry Ford’s car democratized mobility.” On display are volumes ranging from classic late-’60s conceptual works by Mel Bochner, Seth Siegelaub, and Ian Burn to books by contemporary artists like Raymond Pettibon, Sarah Lucas, Jack Pierson, and Thomas Demand, many of which were commissioned for the exhibition.
Bochner’s Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art (1966), a compilation of drawings by various artists, presented in four black loose-leaf binders, is a masterpiece of the tinder-dry, rigorously unbeautiful idiom of early conceptual art. Originally intended as a protest against the quasi-religious aura attributed to original works of art, it now feels like a piece of the true cross. Yet many of the more recent works—like Adam Fuss’s Self-Portrait (1995/2002), a frieze of his own face pressed and smeared across inky paper—have an unexpectedly luscious visuality.
Given the medium’s facility for appropriating images, it’s not surprising to find a number of works dealing with celebrity fetishism and obsessive fandom. The most impressive (and creepiest) is Larry Clark’s River (1994/2002), a grid of color shots of the late heartthrob River Phoenix clipped from teen fan magazines. Less abjectly starry-eyed is Piotr Uklanski’s The Nazis (1998), a collection of portraits of famous actors portraying Nazi soldiers. But perhaps the most salient appropriation is Aleksandra Mir’s Anthrax Nation (2001), a copy of the unforgettable Daily News cover from last October that pointedly encapsulates the lovable absurdity of our media culture.