The gallery is pleased to announce Hardbacks, an off-site project at MoMA PS1 with Leidy Churchman.
Leidy Churchman has been visiting me at the MoMA library off and on for the past several years. He is often drawn to the books that are around the reading room, picking them up and looking them over. I am always interested in the books that catch Leidy’s eye. They are often books with colorful, expressive design, or bearing a curious phrase or graphic signature. I could not exactly describe Leidy’s taste for these covers, but it was something I noticed and related back to his paintings and also his sensitivity to how objects exist in space (his apartment is always gracefully assembled with surprising things). In the past couple of years, we have thought about projects where books could become paintings. One of Leidy’s pieces of painted sculpture from a few years ago, a large wooden block facsimile of a common contemporary art history reader, was memorable to me. It was painted to be like the actual book in layout, but in its material and execution, something uncanny happened.
As we thought about this bigger project for the New York Art Book Fair, we looked through the stacks of the library together. We browsed for some books that fit the certain aesthetic that we were developing in regards to the paintings (equal parts weird, beautiful, declarative). Ideas are important to this project too as well as design. We sought out seminal publications from across the 20th century as well as artists’ publications from the last decade. We found feminist publications and queer publications to hang alongside some of the men of modernism. The collection of titles can read like a sentence and in another way, it becomes a graphic constellation of art historical markers, with the different images and text from the covers hanging together, forming a scene.
The covers of books are extremely expressive, often in ways that we take for granted – through typography, color and images. Personal familiarity with a cover adds another fold to the nature of a particular book’s expressivity. The cover becomes an emblem for the ideas contained and also, of the experience of reading. I like thinking about Leidy painting the covers of these books in his studio because it seems like another kind of intimacy with the books themselves, an extended meditation upon their surface and graphic content. “To be with art is all we ask.” is the imploring yet gentle title of a fairly rare Gilbert & George publication from 1970. As reproduced in the current set of Leidy Churchman’s book paintings, this cover is reiterated through the painting process and the original message does not seem to be distorted, but given a new coat of paint.