Let's talk about editions, the idea of creating a limited number of a particular work of art—generally used in prints and multiples. The practice of limiting the number means that multiple collectors can possess the same image, that as the number dwindles an artificial rarity may create demand, and that artists control dissemination. (Know that the idea of a limited edition is a relatively new one, dating to the late-nineteenth century.) People often ask about editions and how it is that if there are more than one print, why are they considered original works of art and not copies. Basically, it has to do with the artist’s intention. (I can point you to the definition established by the Print Council of America here: https://printcouncil.org/defining-a-print/.) Printmakers naturally take advantage of the medium’s implicit multiplicity, but can the edition itself be the subject of an edition? How meta can it get?
I like an artist who is aware of the structure of the enterprise. But is meta too clever, too cheeky? Is it possible to be funny, smart, aesthetically pleasing, and collectible? Check out this etching by Bill Thompson, which was printed by Jim Stroud at Center Street Studio. The print, Edition, 2015, is a minimalist composition featuring a simple grid. Inside of each square is a fraction running from 1/45 to 45/45—these reflect the numbers in the edition. There are also squares for one BAT (bon à tirer—meaning “good to print,” the proof an artist approves to proceed with printing), 1AP to 5AP (artist’s proofs), and 1PP to 5PP (printer’s proofs). These last few are outside the official edition of 45, but they often find their way into the market eventually. It may seem like they are special in some way, but this is artificial. For the most part, master printers will produce nearly identical impressions to such a degree that a print from the numbered edition will be no different from any of the proofs. Since all the possible impressions are represented within Thompson’s print itself, instead of the number getting handwritten below the image as is usual, in this case the artist circled each number in succession. So, the hand addition of the colored pencil circles indicates the number in sequence and also becomes the focal point of the image. It’s a visually elegant work, and its meta-ness is cheeky. (Impressions of Thompson’s prints are available here: http://www.centerstreetstudio.com/pur…/bill-thompson-edition).
A second meta work is Fiona Banner’s Book 1/1, 2009, published by the now defunct The Multiple Store. The work is more print than book for it is simply bold black letters on a single piece of mirror-finish card. The type spells out the ISBN number of the books—each individual book, that is. Each ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number is registered—it’s an official publication full of nothing, containing only its registration information. Because books are usually reproduced in great numbers, that each of Banner’s books is unique plays against the norm. In addition, the mirror finish performs an important role. Because the viewer necessarily sees him/herself in the reflection, they are automatically the subject of the image/book. In addition, because of the reflective surface, the books are also impossible to photograph and reproduce well; their uniqueness is even more firmly established. Any image of said book will necessarily be different depending on the reflections caught in the process. Banner’s work is a published and registered book, without contents, unreproducible, unique, and reflects the viewer. Talk about meta!
Bill Thompson (American, born 1957)
Printed and published by Center Street Studio
Edition (BAT), 2015
Etching with chine collé
Sheet: 546 x 565 mm. (21 ½ x 22 ¼ in.)
Plate: 318 x 368 mm. (12 ½ x 14 ½ in.)
Fiona Banner (British, born 1966)
Published by The Vanity Press and The Multiple Store
Book 1/1, 2009
Block print on mirror card
685 x 492 mm. (27 x 19 ½ in.)
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Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.