Who Is Seth Siegelaub ?
Seth Siegelaub was born in the Bronx, New York in 1941 and grew up in New York City. He has been active as a plumber, art dealer, publisher and independent art exhibition organizer, political researcher and publisher, and textile bibliographer and collector, and most recently, a researcher studying the theories of time and causality in physics.
After working at the Sculpture Center (New York) in the early 1960s, he opened his own gallery, Seth Siegelaub Contemporary Art, in the Fall 1964 which briefly existed through Spring 1966. Later in 1966, he evolved into a private dealer working closely on projects with the artists Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner, in which he tried to expand and open up the exhibition environment to the new possibilities, issues and problems posed by the new forms of art, especially what is now known as "Conceptual Art". This gradually lead to his becoming the first what is today known as an "independent curator", independently organizing 21 art exhibitions, books, catalogues and projects throughout the USA, Canada and Europe between February 1968 and July 1971 in a wide range of new and original formats, before withdrawing from the art world in 1972.
These exhibitions and projects included the Windham exhibition in May 1968 in Windham, Vermont, with works by Carl Andre, Robert Barry and Lawrence Weiner, considered the first outdoor on-site installation exhibition; the January 5-31, 1969 exhibition, the first group exhibition in which the catalogue was the exhibition, with Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth, Douglas Huebler and Lawrence Weiner; the March 1969 exhibition, in which 31 artists each were asked to do one work on a different day of the month; the so-called "Xeroxbook", in December 1968, in which 7 artists each did a 25-page work, including work by Sol LeWitt and Robert Morris; the July, August, September 1969 exhibition, in which 11 artists each did a work in a different part of the world, including work by Daniel Buren, Richard Long, N.E. Thing Co Ltd, and Robert Smithson; and, the July/August Exhibition Book in 1970, a catalogue-exhibition in the review Studio International (London) in which 6 art critics, David Antin, Germano Celant, Michel Claura, Charles Harrison, Lucy Lippard and Hans Strelow, were each given an 8-page section to edit as they saw fit. During this period, in January 1970, he also began International General to distribute his publications, as well as those of Edward Ruscha, and N.E. Thing Co., among others. (Click here for a complete descriptive list.)
Towards the late 1960s, as part of the politicization of the art world he became active in anti-war activities in the art community as part of the growing mobilization against the U.S. war against Vietnam, including in July 1971 a fund-raising collection catalogue for the United States Serviceman Fund, an organization set up to promote free speech within the U.S. military, and which was especially engaged in anti-Vietnam War activity by means of the funding and support of G.I. newspapers and cultural actions. This activity led to his increasing involvement in the political aspects of art and in 1971, he originated, and then drafted with lawyer Robert Projansky, what is known as the “Artist's Contract”, The Artist's Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, which defined and attempted to protect the rights and interests of the artist as their work circulated within the art world system.
In 1972, he left the art world to pursue other interests in France. In 1973-1974 he edited and published the first issue of the Marxism and Mass Media bibliographic series and began publishing left books on communication and culture, including the classic study on cultural imperialism How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart and founded the International Mass Media Research Center [IMMRC]. From 1979 to 1983, he worked with Armand Mattelart on the 2-volume anthology, Communication and Class Struggle, a basic wide-ranging compilation of 128 left and progressive texts on the history and practice of communication and culture. For more information about these publications click here.
Since the mid-1980s, he has been involved with research on the production of popular culture, especially concerning the social history of handwoven textiles throughout the world. In 1986 he founded the Center for Social Research on Old Textiles [CSROT], and in 1997 he edited and published the Bibliographica Textilia Historiae, the first general bibliography on the history of textiles.
The Siegelaub Collection & Archives is a contemporary art collection and archives arising from these exhibition and publishing activities during the period 1964 through 1972.
The contemporary art collection consists of more than 68 works produced between 1963 and 1970 (except for 3 works), all of which were acquired directly from the artists with whom he worked. For the most part, the collection consists of important early works —many of which can be considered the major early works— by Lawrence Weiner (27), Joseph Kosuth (8), Robert Barry (8), Douglas Huebler (6), and Carl Andre (4). In addition, it includes works by Vito Acconci, John Chamberlain, Daniel Buren, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson and Neil Williams, among others.
The collection is complemented by Seth Siegelaub's personal archives. This material includes private correspondence with many artists active during the period, original photographs and negatives (mostly made by himself), business records, book and exhibition preparatory documents and maquettes, working notes, press clippings, and other material. Most of this documentation has never been published, and in most cases, never even seen. While much of this material concerns his work with the important artists active during the mid-late 1960s, it also contains material concerning his other art-related social-political projects, such as The Artist's Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement in 1971, and his personal papers concerning his pre- and post-art world life.
The combination of the art collection and archives is a unique historic ensemble; a buried treasure lost in the ruins of art world history: a major art collection coupled with the first-hand private papers, notes and files of one of the most influential independent art organizers active during one of the most important art-historical moments in the second half of the twentieth century. This period, with its fundamental questioning of the function, role and relationships between art, the artist, the art public, institutions and the world at large, already can be seen as a radical turning point in the history of modern art. There is little doubt that this period will take on even greater importance in the future as its ideas and practices become even more diffused and influence the work of new generations of artists, critics and institutions.
What Does The
Siegelaub Collection & Archives Want ?
In keeping with the critical spirit underlying the late 1960s, Seth Siegelaub is seeking an institution —or perhaps, institutions— to jointly undertake a continuing project which would use his art collection and archives as a point of departure to create a documentation and research center focussed on the period.
The broad purpose of this center would be to "critically document and study the social, economic and cultural evolution of the art world —art, the artist, and their institutions— since the 1960s", or perhaps even earlier, since 1945.
This project would consist of the following three interrelated elements: (1) The sale of the art collection; (2) The donation of the archives; and (3) The creation of a research center to bring together and initiate critical studies on this theme.
This center, which could have its own advisory board, could organize, for example, activities on this theme and period, including such projects as: (a) a documentation center, (b) the publication of bibliographies, reference works, etc., (c) the organization of conferences, meetings, etc., and (d) the support of research on the theme, etc.
In addition to its projects, the institution(s) and research center could use this collection and activities as a focus to solicit other related works of art, archives and documents from artists, collectors, critics, etc.
While many aspects of this proposed sale—donation—research center project are wide open for discussion, needless to say the interested institution (or institutions) should have the necessary means, and especially, the interest and vision to continue to develop this project over a period of time; ie the patience to see it become a unique and major resource for the period. At the same time, it is also felt that the success of this project must be based, a least at the beginning, on a shared vision, confidence and close working relationship between the institution(s) and Seth Siegelaub.
For additional information see the "The Siegelaub Collection & Archives" section on the "Links" page.