Printed Matter

Printed Matter was a non-profit artists’ book collective Lucy Lippard started in 1975.

Printed Matter is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists. Founded as a for-profit alternative arts space in 1975 by artists and artworkers, Printed Matter reincorporated in 1978 to become the independent non-profit organization. Originally situated in Tribeca, Printed Matter moved to SoHo in 1989 where for twelve years the book displays and artists’ projects in the large storefront windows contributed to the artistic and intellectual vibrancy of the neighborhood. In 2001 Printed Matter relocated to Chelsea, where it continued to foreground the book as an alternative venue – or artistic medium – for artists’ projects and ideas.

Printed Matter’s founders subscribed to the idea of the artist’s book as “artwork for the page,” focusing particularly on those publications produced in editions of one hundred or more. They envisioned these publications as democratizing artworks – inexpensive artworks – that could be consumed alongside the more traditional output of paintings, drawings, sculptures or photography. These books were not simply catalogues of pre-existing artworks, but rather works in their own right, “narratives” intended to be seen in a printed, bound, and widely disseminated format.

Books that appeared in Printed Matter’s first catalogue in 1976 included volumes by Kathy Acker, Laurie Anderson, Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Daniel Buren, Susan Hiller, Sol LeWitt, Adrian Piper, Ad Reinhardt, Martha Rosler, Edward Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner. Most of these artists saw their publications as being “alternative spaces” for the display of their artworks in much the same way that they saw physical “alternative gallery” spaces as being allied homes for their unique artistic output.

One strategy that Printed Matter’s founders – and LeWitt in particular – used to promote artists’ books was to produce them in lieu of exhibition catalogues. These books created literally thousands of venues for art work as they made their way onto coffee tables, collectors’ bookshelves, and into museum libraries and students’ backpacks.


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