Aux artistes dont le nom s’est perdu.
To artists whose names have been lost.
Aux artistes dont le nom s’est perdu.
To artists whose names have been lost.
The Oracle’s Apprentice — It was the first time I’d ever been to the Richelieu Library, that historical site in Paris of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Our aim, yet again, was to dig up some calling cards, and after several disappointments in the Prints Department, the librarians kindly steered us to the Performing Arts Department of the National Library. Our two-man team donned white gloves and, closely superintended by a librarian, leafed through a dozen thick albums of correspondence compiled by set designer émile Bertin (1878–1957). These large leather-bound volumes preserved expressions of praise and well wishes sent to Bertin by the cream of Parisian show business of the first half of the 20th century, including everyone from Wagnerian soprano Félia Litvinne to the dashing Maurice Chevalier. But we came across cards from some visual artists, too, including Maurice Denis, Foujita and poster designer Cassandre, as well as one from a member of the Institut de France (which includes the Academy of Fine Arts) conveying his “greatest thanks” to Bertin : a certain Paul Landowski. A quick Google check whisked us right off to Rio, for it was French sculptor Landowski who crafted Christ the Redeemer, the mighty statue atop Mount Corcovado in Rio (1931), as well as the famous statue, in a very different style, of Montaigne (1933) sitting facing the Sorbonne, arms folded, cross-legged, his right foot buffed to a shine by the touch of countless passersby. Closer to home, we realized that we’d been passing the formidable statues of the Reformation Wall along Geneva’s Parc des Bastions practically every day without knowing that this International Monument to the Reformation was likewise carved by Paul Landowski (and Henri Bouchard, 1909).
Landowski, official artist and director of the Villa Medici in Rome from 1933–37, then appointed head of the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 1939, initially supported Marshal Pétain… and then underwent a change of heart and mind. In the end, however, the editorial committee we’d formed with Master’s students in visual arts at HEAD – Genève (Haute École d’Art et de Design de Genève, Geneva School of Art and Design), voted not to include Landowski’s card – which was, incidentally, devoid of graphic interest – in our book, which still needed a good title.
In 1909 – and this was a more curious discovery – the French government commissioned Landowski to make a monument to unknown artists, rather like the tomb of the unknown soldier, for the Pantheon in Paris, where it still says : “Aux Artistes dont le nom s’est perdu” (To artists whose names have been lost). Now that would make a good title for our book ! But after e-mailing lists of possible titles back and forth for weeks, this suggestion was eventually discarded : it still sounded too suggestive of a monument.
Geneva. Everyone at HEAD in Geneva, including students in several successive classes, had heard about this book project. It had become something of a campus meme, a buzzword of the boulevard Helvétique, a tentacular project that never seemed to stop branching out and feasting on new material. The vast network of card-carrying archives and card-covering authors just kept growing exponentially, so did the number of pages as a result.
Pierre Leguillon, an artist and founder of the Museum of Mistakes in Brussels, had just joined the HEAD faculty and was promptly tasked with taking the initiative and seeing the project through. Jean-Pierre Greff, the head of HEAD – Genève, and Yann Chateigné, head of the Visual Arts Department, served as editorial directors. Both had complete faith in this long-term project fueled by the creative juices of a host of intramural talents : students, teachers and assistants, technical and administrative staff, working at various levels to perfect the form and content of an object that was often beyond our grasp, both individually and as an institution divided up into separate departments. We all met up or crossed paths at the Micro-édition studio run by Barbara Fedier with a characteristically Swiss combination of rigor and gentleness, assisted by Clovis Duran and his unflagging obsession with different kinds of printing paper and techniques. Clovis also oversaw the reproduction of all the calling cards and designed the book.
Although a huge amount of work went into the project, you can’t “smell the sweat” in the finished product – which the reader will surely appreciate ! To see how far we’ve come, let’s turn back the clock and begin at the beginning, five years ago – bearing in mind that whenever a new book rolls off the press, we’re immediately struck by the absence of one author or contributor or another. Now, in the Schlussspurt to the press, let’s look back and see how we got this far – and whom we have to thank for that.
Zurich. There’s a unique place in Zurich where every book project involving an unprecedented challenge for the publishers is embraced and sustained with ardent enthusiasm : Edition Patrick Frey. Daniel Baumann, director of Zurich’s Kunsthalle, put us in touch with them. We didn’t exactly have to twist their arms. The project caught on right away at EPF. Starting with Patrick Frey himself, who leads a double life, dividing his time and energies between cabaret and publishing, and is possessed of a passion and imagination rarely found in the modern-day publishing world. Seconded by Martin Jaeggi, who fully understands it is not the job of art to attempt to simplify a complex world.
And of course dear Andrea Kempter, ever reactive and amiable – in several languages at once (and sometimes even at ungodly hours). She shepherded the project – and its successive editorial teams – through its every phase. What a pleasure it is to feel so much human warmth even when working with someone across cold and lifeless digital-display screens.
Gloria Wismer, who handled publicity for the book, even had the patience to presell copies with the meagerest of means at her disposal : just a handful of visiting cards (photographed at HEAD by Raphaëlle Mueller), some of which were gilded with big names – our “end-aisle displays”, as it were.
EPF editor Christian-Mathieu Schweizer tested various kinds of wrapping paper and ways of folding it with us : after all, such a refined objet was not to end up blister-packed like sliced mortadella !
And while in Zurich, let’s not forget the amicable kindliness of Grazia and Christoph Schifferli and their passion for artists’ books.
The EPF team also had its translators. They’re hard to localize, always between several cities, though never without their keyboard handy.
Most of the translations, from French and German and even Italian, were taken care of – and with consummate care – by Eric Rosencrantz, who was even prone to fact-check the Oracles. He was aided and abetted by Charlotte Maconochie, in particular, and Philippe Aronson. Paulo Pires do Vale’s contribution in Portuguese was translated by Colin Ginks.
Charlotte Maconochie also proofread the whole tome. “Tuning the violins” of over eighty authors writing in different languages was, needless to say, no mean feat (even with a quatuor of last-minute reinforcements : namely Constance Brosse, Sylvie Eyberg, Violaine Peccoud and Quentin Lannes). And Rob van Leijsen’s typographical expertise helped us harmonize the visual expression of these many voices.
Geneva. But back to Geneva, where over the past two years a group formed around the students in the Work.Master class, led by the artists Laurent Schmid and Lili Reynaud Dewar. Nobody kept track of the hours they worked – this is one of the luxuries we enjoy in the privileged setting of an art school – though some soon realized they’d not come out of it unscathed, so they jumped ship. All groups come together and then eventually unravel. But a handful of die-hards stuck to our little paper rectangles as to treasures, in which we tried with the authors to read the past – and sometimes the future.
This core team, a sort of chamber ensemble that might elsewhere be called an editorial committee, comprised students Pauline Cordier, Aurélie Jacquet, Anaïs Perez, Charlotte Schaer and Kyrill Charbonnel. Mostly women, in other words, but as we know all too well (and as this book corroborates), that ratio always tends to be reversed in the art scene itself.
It’s impossible to describe the day-to-day making of this book. Charlotte, for example, who can’t sit around with idle hands, would continue folding or stamping cards during our long discussions. It was the only time in the school’s memory that the same project had us learning how to do state-of-the-art etchings one day and soiling digital prints with ketchup the next. This was part of our efforts at a certain realism that would tie history into fiction. Or was it the other way round ?
Pierre Leguillon recalled a French TV game show from his childhood called La Tête et les Jambes (Head & Legs). Here, too, we alternated between cerebral deliberation and printing sessions, between brainwork and manual training. On the one hand, we were reading Michel Foucault on the relationship between history and the manipulation of archives, Carlo Ginzburg and Jacques Revel on microstoria (microhistory) methodologies, and Carla Lonzi, who had come up with a new way of writing art history based on a fanciful collage of interviews with Arte Povera artists. On the other hand, Pauline and Charlotte had by now mastered the art of cutting cards, whose relation to the industrial “guillotine” went beyond the mere dichotomy of man (or in this case, woman) vs. machine. While Kyrill was jumping into his van to deliver some paper. And so on and so forth.
Aline Melaet, an exchange student from La Cambre in Brussels, and Merryl Bouchereau from the art school in Saint-étienne (ESADSe), rounded out our troupe for a semester. Long live Erasmus ! Viva Europa ! These fresh viewpoints from abroad always bring a burst of energy to those fortunate enough to receive them. And this book would never have turned out so well without the collegial spirit that presided over the making of every decision.
We had to “look alive” to wake the dead, and it would be a lie to say we never got discouraged. But isn’t it a sign of the times we live in that Picasso’s heirs should refuse to allow a Swiss university to reproduce the Spanish master’s calling card – which, by the way, is not a work of art – after they’ve sold their father’s name and signature to an automaker ?
Naturally, things went a lot more easily, and even amicably, with the living artists. They all agreed to play our game amusedly and enthusiastically, for which we can never thank them enough. Carl Andre was an exception, however, and all the more regrettable seeing as Yasmil Raymond (now at MoMA) and Manuel Cirauqui (now at the Guggenheim Bilbao) had found, with Stella Lohaus’s help, his card in Anny De Decker’s archives (Wide White Space, Antwerp) while working on the beautiful retrospective organized by the Dia Foundation. “CARL ANDRE SCULPTURES” is writ large twice on the card, which dates from the 1960s, so it would have been in good company between Rodin and Brancusi’s cards. But no matter.
Superimposed on this dense network of artists was an equally dense network of authors : Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students, art historians, curators, writers. The precision, humor and generosity of their contributions did a marvelous job of keeping the Oracles table spinning – sometimes at a distance of thousands of miles away. I’m quite sure I’ll meet some of them someday.
At the outset, Géraldine Beck coordinated between the authors, translators and publishers. Then Aurélie Jacquet took over. Aurélie had got involved in this titanic project early on, and now she was putting the finishing touches to it and tying up all those loose ends, including requests for reproduction rights, as well as overseeing the proofing of the prodigious proofs.
The first round of research and the reproduction of dozens of calling cards had been carried out in the HEAD bachelor’s program “Appropriation, Art and Reproduction” under the tutelage of artist Didier Rittener and art historian Benjamin Stroun and assistants Marta Riniker-Radich and Damián Navarro (the latter will be pleased to find two Iain Baxter& cards included in the book : he was right to insist !). This “Appropriation” class was made up of the following students : Lisa Bonard, Rodrigo Brotini, Kelly Cavadas, Léticia Chanliau, Alessandro Chianese, Jenny Corboz, Céline Derache, Adrien Fricheteau, Olivia Hadorn, Paul Lannes, Johanna Martins, Laura Miles, Lena-Lou Monteduro, Mathias Pfund, Timothée Scalici, Cécile Velley, Anna Thillaye, Lisa Yahia-Cherif, Diego Ybarra and Tania Zappelletto.
Nicolas Wagnières supervised the printing of Absalon, Iris Clert and Andy Warhol’s cards on HEAD’s silkscreen presses on the rue de l’Encyclopédie.
Meanwhile, in the adjoining studio, Raynald Métraux, a publisher of prints in Lausanne and teacher at HEAD, trained us all in engraving ! For four days we rubbed and rubbed… Even Pierre-Alain Giesser, in charge of publishing and printing at HEAD, came round to put his shoulder to the wheel, as well as giving us invaluable advice at several stages of the project.
And down in the basement, Alain Berset, a passionate publisher at Héros-Limite in Geneva, got the HEAD letterpress machines rolling, for we were not about to skimp on quality when it came to artists to whom typography was a core concern.
But the daily work of this whole undertaking would not have gone anywhere near as smoothly were it not for Corinne Ott, Katrin Kettenacker, Marie Debat, Odile Quennoz, Nicolas Rivet, Laure Marville and Denise Bertschi, who ironed out the administrative wrinkles and cut through the red tape that so often stymie the creative process.
Given the magnitude of our task, we decided to call in La Carte de Visite : master printer Michel Ellias worked some wonders there on his hefty Heidelberg, which takes up his whole little shop at 5 rue Bergalonne, just a stone’s throw from Mamco, Geneva’s Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain. And some cards were four-color printed by Imprimerie Villière in Beaumont, right across the French border, under the watchful eye of Ludovic Servera.
We’re lucky the HEAD library is so well endowed. And we’re especially lucky it’s separated only by a single door from the BAA, Bibliothèque d’Art et d’Archéologie – a library virtually unparalleled in Europe, where the librarians, as often as they were plied with our requests, always responded with a kindness and eagerness sans pareil. Ici tout est luxe, calme et efficacité : all is luxury, calm and efficiency here, largely thanks to library director Véronique Goncerut, Jean-Yves Marin, director of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, and, in particular, librarians Nathalie Jordan, Anne Golay, Anne-Christine Tallent, Laurent Bussat and Matthias Schmid. At the Bibliothèque de Genève, we were assisted by Pierre Reymond and Sylvain Féjoz.
Véronique Bacchetta at the Centre d’édition Contemporaine kindly gave us access to her Rolodex file, chock-full of useful business cards. Françoise Ninghetto, Mamco’s deputy director, also shared her precious artist contacts with us. And Hélène Mariéthoz, who runs the Villa Bernasconi, an art center in the Geneva suburb of Lancy, recommended some good authors. A wonderful go-between, she even had our dream team over for dinner with a few of her friends, which proved a convivial setting in which to bring several invaluable contributors aboard !
Marsannay-la-Côte. In early summer 2016 we spent several (studious !) days at the Archives Modernes in Marsannay-la-Côte, Burgundy, thanks to the steadfast support and hospitality of Christian Besson and Cécile Bart. We would gather there under the shade of a huge lime tree (137 years old), where we had a stunning view of the vineyards – as well as unlimited Internet access and, close at hand, a trove of books, periodicals and pictures encompassing contemporary and folk art as well as the social sciences. And not forgetting of course the pleasures of taste-testing the local wines for our aperitif… We also discovered everyone’s culinary specialties : Kyrill, in particular, who, like Caran d’Ache (on whose shadow plays Aurélie burned plenty of midnight oil !), has Russian roots, served us a delicious borscht there in the middle of Burgundy, epitomizing what our project was all about : bridging spatial and temporal divides in history.
LOS ANGELES. Through the good offices of Isabelle Le Normand and her dense network in L.A., we skyped with Pietro Rigolo, an Italian curator who oversaw the processing and cataloging of Harald Szeemann’s archives recently acquired by the Getty Research Institute. One cannot help wondering how this exceptional collection, put together by the figure who “invented” the status of independent “curator”, to which so many (too many ?) schools (in the literal and figurative sense) lay claim all over the world, failed to be recognized as a Swiss “national treasure”, as would have been decreed in, say, Portugal or Japan. But enough said on that score.
Rigolo, who was thrilled about our project, promptly tasked assistant librarian Xiaoda Wang over the next four months with digging out anything he could find in the Szeemann archives that resembled a visiting card. Each week, volleys of newly-found cards would land in our inboxes and on our online Trello board. (On a personal note : Congratulations to Xiaoda on having since joined the staff of the Pasadena library !) Xiaoda was assisted with specific searches by Virginia Mokslaveskas, Laura Lesko, Ted Walbye and Kit Messick.
Although this sort of thing usually goes slowly, the digitization process was appreciably facilitated by Glenn R. Phillips (Curator and Head of Modern & Contemporary Collections), Tracey Schuster (Head of Permissions & Photo Archive Services) and Jacklyn Burns (Rights & Reproductions at J. Paul Getty Museum). For, as Robert Walser once pointed out (and more eloquently at that), there’s a certain pleasure to be derived from breaking some rules in everyday life to feel more alive.
PARIS. But it was in Paris, no doubt about it, that we scoured the most libraries : the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, the above-mentioned Bibliothèque Nationale, the Bibliothèque Forney, and the Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs, where Chantal Lachkar passionately shares the treasures of the immense Jules Maciet Collection of roughly a million pictures and documents bound in nearly five thousand large albums.
But it was definitely the Bibliothèque Kandinsky at the Centre Pompidou – or “BK” for regulars – that made the largest contribution to our corpus thanks to director Didier Schulmann’s legendary affability and openmindedness. And if only we could be received everywhere with the kindliness and expertise of Mica Gherghescu, who helps researchers find what they’re looking for – and simplifies their lives !
One distinctive particularity of the BK is that it brings peripheral aspects of works and exhibitions to the fore, which sometimes influences art-historical interpretations thereof. Our quest was like looking for a needle in a haystack, for visiting cards, if not signed, are not listed in archival inventories. So a number of curators who’d heard about our undertaking gave us some useful tips, and a few times we even succeeded in finding a dozen cards in a single day. But not a single card that might have been slipped into Ettore Sottsass’s dozens of diaries. Nor did Guy de Cointet’s archives yield any booty. What a delight, on the other hand, to find that Constantin Brancusi had scribbled a phone number on a piece of paper that turned out to be his own calling card – it had eluded the inventory !
Didier Schulmann and Camille Morando, who run a seminar at the BK for (promising) students from the école du Louvre, suggested they collaborate on the book based on their specific fields of research in the collections bequeathed to the BK. Some of them have now contributed their very first published essays. Which had a knock-on effect when some curators and assistants at the Centre Pompidou, outside the BK, also agreed to write for Oracles (Damarice Amao, Angela Lampe, Elisabeth Jobin). So it’s no exaggeration to say that, sitting sedulously around the long tables in the library, the Oracles came to feel quite at home there. Thank you, BK.
Part of the collection of the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet is kept on the other side of the rue Valette at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (where Marcel Duchamp worked as a librarian from November 1913 to May 1914). Library director Isabelle Diu, Paul Cougnard and Nathalie Fressard gave us access to this incredibly rich cache of rare handwritten documents from various avant-garde movements, amassed by French fashion designer and art collector Jacques Doucet (1853–1929).
In “Dactylocoque”, an article from a 1922 edition of the journal Littérature we found in Doucet’s collection Francis Picabia wrote : “Il n’y a d’indispensable que les choses inutiles”, i.e. “Nothing’s indispensable but useless things.” And with each passing day, that maxim became a little more true for each of us !
ELSEWHERE. Although our research efforts now and then proved fruitless, that doesn’t mean our exchanges with various contacts did too. So let us take this opportunity to thank them all – indiscriminately, to be sure, but not indifferently. Alphabetically – and poetically for those who, like Umberto Eco and Georges Perec, appreciate the vertiginous lure and magical lore of the list.
ALTUSRIED. The book was printed by Kösel in Altusried, Bavaria, in the Swabian district of Oberallgäu, less than 200 km from Zurich. Barbara Fedier and Clovis Duran, equipped with image proofs painstakingly prepared by Claudio Cicchini at the helm of HEAD’s digital printing studio, crossed the whole of Switzerland to oversee the printing.
Barbara and Clovis finally got to meet Frank Isensee, who’d been planning the printing for a whole year and with whom they’d thrashed out over the phone oodles of technical matters beyond the ken of non-specialists. I did pick up some of the lingo, however, and I knew we’d received from them as many as five poupées, or blancos – I’d even learned the English term : dummies, and the German : Blindbände. So it became a running joke to ask about the “doll” : “As-tu vu la nouvelle poupée?” or “What do you think of the latest dummy ?” (Come to think of it, what have we been doing these past two years if not ventriloquizing the voices of others ?) I must confess I couldn’t always tell these printer’s dummies apart, these quasi clones, for the differences were sometimes hidden in the spine !
The Kösel section of the credits to our film – sorry, to our book – breaks down as follows :
Once the printing had been completed, Clovis had been nurturing the hope of slipping in felt slippers across the parquet floors of the St. Gallen library to see the famous mummy lying in state between the books under the Rococo ceilings of this architectural and artistic gem of the Swiss Baroque. To enter, every bibliophile has to pass through the big carved-wood doors, above which is inscribed in a gilded cartouche : “ ΨΥXHΣ IATPEION ” (“Psyches Iatreion”, ancient Greek for “healing place of the soul”, as at the entrance to the sacred library at Thebes).
But the printing of the book proved plenty time-consuming too. So Clovis found consolation in the thought that the study trip we’d made to the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp, the cradle of modern printing, in preparation for designing the book was probably more important anyway. Libraries always come afterwards.
He set the running text in Linotype’s ITC New Baskerville. And the headings, captions, bibliographical references and index in Swiss Typefaces’ elegant Suisse – that’s right : think global, act local ! These aren’t the only two fonts in the book, but it would have been impossible for us to identify all the typefaces used on the 123 artists’ calling cards – for many of which Clovis had to redraw all the faded lettering on the screen with some of my classmates. Tecnotronic, a mysterious avatar on myfonts.com, helped us find fonts at phenomenal speed, and we’d love to know who the handy (apparently Catalan) helper is behind this pseudonym. Pauline Cordier actually worried that we were putting all our energies into becoming outright forgers – like Willem Sandberg, who forged documents in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, or Ana Jotta, who told us during her talk at school that she’d been copying banknotes since childhood.
Is this what art schools are supposed to teach ? The 20th century had freed us from academic copying exercises – and now here we were, training to become the next Abram de Pury or Elmyr de Hory of the age of 3D printing. I was sometimes a bit thrown for a loop myself.
The paper used for the body of the book is Aspero White, 100 g. I will spare the reader a list of the 123 kinds of paper used for the facsimiles as well as the printing methods used for each – including letterpress and digital printing, occasionally manually enhanced with a dollop of barbecue sauce – we’ll leave these details to professionals armed with linen testers.
The black Skivertex cover is hot-stamped with white ink. The magpie and cats – or Goya himself, depending on how you look at it – were treated to Fasson Vellux Super Tack 83 g ; naturally, the black cat was the hardest of the three figures to reproduce. At least Goya has fallen into the public domain and his estate isn’t going to sue us for putting a thieving magpie on the cover. Though we did have to get curators at the honorable MET in New York to sign off on the way we cropped this detail of the painting – who’d believe it ! Don’t they have any other more pressing dangers to fret about in this day and age ?
This is certainly the big lesson I’ve learned from the whole Oracles enterprise : it’s a lot easier nowadays to do business in art than in ideas, even if you’re based in the “university” (this official appellation representing the new status upgrade that art schools are so proud of). In reality, our research mission involves negotiating with more or less faraway estates, whose heirs have taken up their positions as keepers of the flame but are often sorely wanting in the powers of imagination that infused the work of their brilliant benefactors. They know who they are. So this time around we’ve made a point of forgetting their names.
On the other hand, despite our best efforts, it was in some cases impossible for us to trace the source of an image or document, so the copyright holders concerned are herewith kindly requested to contact the editor. We apologize in advance for failing to find you.
But, Kind User, please find us ! For even Oracles copyright their productions nowadays, to wit : All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means whatever (including electronic, mechanical, microcopying, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. So there you have it.
Which leaves only distribution, for us to let our big brainchild slip off and away out into the world, perhaps dropping its calling cards here and there to lead a new life beyond the time and space to which history had once assigned them.
The following regional cohorts are now transmitting the Oracles far and wide around the globe.