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Albuquerque: Handling Various Small Fires at Generator Exhibitions

Handling an artist book meant to be ordinary, but now a super de luxe object, was the first installation offered to new patrons of Generator Exhibitions, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

You might not guess that the 16 x 17 freestanding concrete block room located in the parking lot of the Downtown Flying Star in Albuquerque is an art space, but as of Saturday, August 7th, it became Generator, a project space featuring small, unique installations, opened by David Leigh and Ben Meisner.  The two are looking to do very focused exhibitions that marry the art to the space. “[The art] has to engage with the architecture,” Meisner explains, “because theres nowhere else to look.” There is essentially no room for generalization, but ideally the connection of artist and space, say the curators, will generate a new way to look at and interact with art  work.

Hence, the opening installation “Impossible Objects: Various Small Fires“, simply features one small book, on a slightly larger platform, at the crux of two box-like compressed wood benches.  And thats it. The book itself, Various Small Fires, originally published in 1964 by Ed Ruscha, has been hailed as a revolutionary artist book in that historically, artist books were handmade, one-of-a-kind editions.  Ruscha, though, wanted to be “the Henry Ford of book-making”, so he created intentionally plain, inexpensive publications with the idea that everyone can afford one, thereby opening his work to a larger audience. Various Small Fires is a sequence of fifteen photographs depicting a woman smoking a cigarette, a gas stove burner, a blowtorch, a highway flare, a man smoking a cigar, etc., and is followed by the books final, incongruous image: a glass of milk.

Generator Exhibition

Generator Exhibition

What has happened, however, is over the years this book has become wildly expensive, thereby rendering it inaccessible to the masses, defying the artists original intention. The idea for Leigh and Meisners “low-key” installation was to return Various Small Fires to its status as “populist art object.”

Backing up a bit, the idea originated with Caitlin Murray, an assistant curator for a show in 2008 at UT Austin featuring Ruschas books (donated by the artist) placed in locked, glass vitrines, thereby rendering them “impossible objects” because of all that is lost in this mode of display.  One is only allowed a surrogate experience ““ a glance at the cover, or a few pages at most, and a synopsis of its contents written by someone other than the author.

Murray and fellow artist Tim Johnson, with the approval and assistance of Ruscha, displayed the first exhibition of “Impossible Objects: Various Small Fires” at Marfa Book Company in Marfa, Texas this past spring.

Normally, when a piece enters a museum, its value increases, but with this particular exhibition, the book is actually being devalued, yet the interactive experience of knowing it for oneself becomes much more valuable than its commodified rarity.  Leigh and Meisner then brought the exhibition to Albuquerque.  The first patron arrives at Generator, sits down next to me, and picks up the book.  “This guys stuff escapes me,” he confesses as he flips through the pages, “maybe if there were more of a narrative, Id get it.”  We chat a minute, I get up to leave, another patron sits down, picks up the book.

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