Printed Matter, a pioneer in the field of artists’ books and a nerve center for New York’s alternative arts world for four decades, is the subject of the newest exhibition and publishing project at NYU’s 80WSE gallery, launching December 2 with an official opening reception on December 12.

Printed Matter visual timeline at Art Basel. 80WSE expands this visual history, and will add a live studio where artists such as Mary Ellen Carroll and Josh Smith will make books on site.

A carefully selected amalgamation of books, records, exhibition documentation and flyers, Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter charts the organizational history of the New York non-profit in relation to the history of artists' books and important movements in contemporary art from the 70's to the present, encompassing the alternative space movement, downtown NYC counter-cultural scenes, and artist activism.

“The field of artists’ books traces the historical trajectory of contemporary art, and many pioneering conceptual artists produced books and publications in order to both reach wider audiences and to circumvent the market and the institutions that much of the work implicitly critiqued,” said Max Schumann, the Acting Executive Director and veteran of Printed Matter and curator of the exhibition. “As one of the pioneering organizations in the field of artists’ books, Printed Matter has stood at the junction of the book as art-form, art-vehicle, art-concept and art-process throughout its 39 year history. The goal of this exhibition is to provide a space for the examination and celebration of this critical cultural activity.”

Printed Matter was founded in 1976 by Sol Lewitt and Lucy Lippard among others, and capitalized on the growing interest in publications made by contemporary experimental artists, such as Vito Acconci, Kathy Acker, John Baldessari, Hanne Darboven, Alison Knowles, Louise Lawler, Sol LeWitt, Edward Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner. Through decades of its own records and files, Learn to Read Art provides a visual account of the history of the store’s collaboration with artists as well as the contemporary art scene in which it engaged.

Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter will be organized along a timeline of documents, ephemera, editions and publications, which will be presented alongside a chronologically arranged reading library of artists’ books from the corresponding decades, allowing for a hands-on, between-the-covers interaction with exhibition. Complimenting the expansive visual installation will be an onsite bookmaking studio within the gallery where artist residents will produce new publications over the course of the exhibition, including Mary Ellen Carroll, Jesse Hlebo / Swill Children, Juliana Huxtable, Red76, Research and Destroy New York City, and Josh Smith & Friends. Books produced on site will be available for sale at a pop-up Printed Matter store, also incorporated within the exhibition.

“Printed Matter remains unique in its ability to democratize the field of contemporary art. Where else in NYC does an artist book by Ed Ruscha sit next to a zine by a teenager from rural Ohio?” said co-curator and artist Jonathan Berger, director of the 80WSE Gallery and Assistant Professor of Art and Arts Professions at the NYU Steinhardt School. “Through offering a full history of how Printed Matter developed as the vital institution that it is, I believe that this exhibition has the potential to be an incredible resource for new generations of artists in search of new and different independent models, which enable new possibilities that push beyond the confines of the present.”

The title of the exhibition is taken from a text piece by conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner, who has a career-long artists’ book practice, and has had a relationship with Printed Matter since its founding. The exhibition runs through February 14. For more information visit:

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