Much has already been written of Steven Leiber’s unique contribution to the artistic landscape of the Bay Area -- from the collection and dissemination of arts-related ephemera, as an educator at California College of the Arts and as a generous tour guide of his own basement archive. For those of us who didn’t have the luck of forging a personal relationship to Leiber before he passed away in 2012, a recent publication attempts to give form to his wide-ranging influence and enduring legacy.
RITE EDITIONS, founded in 2007 by Leiber and Robin Wright, works closely with artists to make editioned objects ranging from vinyl records to glossy monographs full of blank pages. In memory of her late business partner, Wright has gathered new works from fourteen artists as one boxed edition, Artists & Editions, an homage to one of Leiber’s favorite publications in his own collection, the 1970 set Artists & Photographs by Multiples Inc.
If you don’t have $12,500 on hand to explore the publication yourself, thankfully Frances Bowes donated a copy to the Legion of Honor, where it is now on view in the mellowly-lit Reva and David Logan Gallery of Illustrated Books. The exhibition, titled Artists & Editions: A Publication in Memory of Steven Leiber (1957–2012) does it best to showcase works that are intrinsically tactile. I tried to get closer a number of times, only to gently bump some part of my face on the display case glass.
The contributions to Artists & Editions are wide ranging, as the edition’s descriptive text enumerates: “five prints (three silkscreens, one edition variée and one etching), four artist generated archival publications, two three-dimensional paper pieces, two posters, a painting, a drawing, a coupon for redeeming a record, an artist’s book, a metal stencil, a weaving, a sewn canvas work and an edition catalog.”
Let’s start with the three-dimensional paper pieces. Tauba Auerbach’s Filing system, a pop-up made from digitally trimmed manila file folders, nods to the filing system Leiber used to organize his own reference material on the artists in his collection. Auerbach visited Leiber’s archive while researching alternative construction methods for her own books, and the simple elegance of her contribution, contained neatly within an unassuming and familiar shape, acts like a note of thanks.
While many of the contributors to Artists & Editions are emerging Bay Area artists and Leiber’s former students, his community extends beyond his role as a mentor. Claude Closky, an established French artist, is responsible for the second 3D work: Easy-Difficult, a single piece of thick paper folded in half. On one side, an illustration depicts the “easy” way to view the piece, propped on its two edges. On the verso, the “hard” way, balanced on its single folded edge. Self-consciously, the Legion of Honor display identifies itself as a “failed” installation.