Exploring the Archive of Artist / Designer
Editions and Prototypes from A/D in Rago's May Fine Art Auctions
18 April 2019
A/D (“Artist Designer”) was a strong and unique voice in the 80s and 90s, for it was the only publisher of editions with the unique distinction to commission projects only from visual artists, and only for functional objects that were meant to be lived with and used.
The idea was that visual artists would bring different solutions to design problems, and would challenge material limits in ways that designers and architects normally would not. The success of the gallery and all that they published was a result of this challenge, and of the standards that they were willing to commit to projects. The roster of artists published by A/D is impressive, from Sol LeWitt and Chuck Close, to Jennifer Bartlett and Arlene Shechet; and the fabricators used were always the best possible, willing to work closely with the artists to solve special challenges; it is unlikely that any wallpaper before or after Joan Nelson’s Vines was ever made using 28 screens.
The works that follow are all examples that the gallery retained for their own archives, and include published editions; unique prototype copies that were fabricated on the way to making a final edition, often in different materials; and also unique works that were made in only one example, like the Tom Sachs Telephone Lamp, and the painted cement standing screen, a unique collaboration between artists Georgia Marsh and Win Knowlton. Also included is the iconic door to the gallery space by 1100 Architect (David Piscuskas and Juergen Riehm), itself a unique design solution for a public entry from the bend in a hallway into an exhibition space, a fitting collaboration by a then-young firm that went on to design the MoMA Design Store, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation offices, and many artists’ residences and studios.
The several objects here from Richard Tuttle—lamps, chandeliers, chairs, a rug—are a particularly important range of work coming from one of the most important artists of our time. With his first exhibition in 1965, Tuttle helped to invent the vocabulary of Minimal Art, and in the more than 50 years since has shown through constant invention what can be done with modest materials. The objects made for A/D show a range of exploration of how traditional forms can be meaningfully tweaked, often with an historical understanding that came from his own impressive collection of decorative arts.
While many of the A/D editions were successful in their time, a number of the editions were never completed. The McDermott & McGough Sundial was announced as an edition of 20, but the example offered here is likely one of only 3 ever made. The “Ribbon Chaise” took such an elaborately difficult tour de force of woodworking skill and was so expensive to produce that of the 9 planned, only 3 were ever made. The fact that published editions would not be fully made was not unique to A/D: the 1967-68 Ellsworth Kelly Primary Tapestry rug that was published by Charles Slatkin (Modern Master Tapestries) was announced as an edition of 20; but according to the records of the Ellsworth Kelly Studio, only 4 were ever produced.
Certain objects were made purposefully in unusually small editions: the cast sterling silver. Arman’s Candelabrum is one from an edition of only 8, Arman’s own choice in order to comply with the French law definition of an “original” object; more than 8 examples would become an “edition.” And while the silver edition offered here is already rare, the two prototype examples in silver plate are unique, as this experiment in testing this process was then abandoned in favor of making the edition in solid silver.
Since A/D closed some 20 years ago, no other publisher has pursued this path in the same way. A/D remains a very special marker of its decade, and their editions represent an important impulse that is still influential. Many of the objects offered here now appear only rarely in the market, but with this dispersal of the retained archives of A/D, certainly there will never again be the opportunity of such a range of the important A/D editions.