April 2017—Brussels, Belgium. The Embassy is pleased to announce its fourth exhibition, which will focus on American curator, art dealer, and author Seth Siegelaub, on view April 20th–May 6th, 2017. Siegelaub was an instrumental figure in forging the path for conceptual art and giving a voice to a key generation of artists in the 1960s including Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry, Sol Lewitt, and Douglas Huebler. The exhibit will bring together Siegelaub’s historical publications, materials, and ephemera from 1962 to 1971.
"When art does not any longer depend upon its physical presence, when it has become an abstraction, it is not distorted and altered by its representation in books and catalogues. It becomes PRIMARY information; while the reproduction of conventional art in books or catalogues is necessarily SECONDARY information. . . . When information is PRIMARY, the catalogue can become the exhibition."
— Interview with Seth Siegelaub from Ursula Meyer, Nov. 1969
Three decades after Walter Benjamin gave rise to “Art in the age of mechanical reproduction” in a 1936 essay, Siegelaub would support a generation of artists to create work which was beyond material constraints and limits of representation. He believed the artist’s output could take form in a concept or primary information once it was freed from physical presence. Deeming art to be be doomed by Benjamin, Siegelaub offered art a rebirth and new conceptual foundation, which still serves as a tenet of art production today.
His pioneering vision was evident in the seminal Xerox Book of 1969, for which he invited Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, and Lawrence Weiner to create 25 pages in photocopy format. The reproduction was the primary medium of the collection of works. It offered an alternate exhibition model in response to the challenges of a traditional gallery. He was a radical thinker, responding to the needs of artists whose principal mode was their ideas and whose goal was to disseminate them. Siegelaub believed his gallery extended beyond the walls to the rest of the globe, long before the age of information and onset of globalization.
In 1971 he published The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, across numerous languages and exhibitions, providing a framework which endures today. It was designed to bring attention to the “generally acknowledged inequities in the art world, particularly artists’ lack of control over the use of their work and participation in its economics after they no longer own it” which Siegelaub sought to remedy. The Agreement was the first of its kind and foundational in advocating for artists’ rights and remains an essential document today.
While Siegelaub remains a figure whose significance is eclipsed by the artists he championed, he has recently gained greater recognition through shows including Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the acquisition of his archives by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2011. The Embassy chose to focus on Siegelaub after staging two shows of artists of the era, as the show presents an opportunity to delve further into the movement which produced fundamental shifts within art discourse. The works and documents included in the exhibition span the entire decade, with a focus on the 1968 and 1969. The ephemera and writing provide a broader context for his involvement with publications, curating, and production.