“Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter”
EXHIBITION DATES + VENUES
SMITH COLLEGE NEILSON LIBRARY Northampton, Massachusetts, September 2 – December 15, 2014
QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART New York City, July 19 – October 26, 2015
CENTER FOR BOOK AND PAPER ARTS Columbia College Chicago, February 11 – April 9, 2016
The art of Robert Seydel (1960-2011) is a rare hybrid species of the visual and literary that dissolves boundaries between the lyrical and the narrative and the acts of reading and looking. In a body of work marked by an unrelenting sense of play, Seydel collapses the historical past with the notated, emotional present and mingles actual personages with fictional characters. Much of his work is made under the auspices of various personas in place of the singular first person perspective. His is a multiplicitious “I”—the self fractured and expanded into many, the lines between them quivering and permeable.
Beginning in 2000, Seydel created a series of works using the alter ego Ruth Greisman who was inspired by his aunt of the same name. “Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter” features a definitive selection from this fictional archive. Along with a selection of Ruth’s “journal pages” (now collected in A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth) and almost one hundred collages (many previously unpublished and unexhibited with some previously appearing in Book of Ruth), this exhibition features Seydel’s notebooks (Knot-books), open to pages that reveal glimpses of the process of making this visionary body of work.
These notebooks are the crucible of his expansive, alchemical imagination and eclectic body of knowledge. An exceedingly solitary man who spent untold hours each day reading and studying, writing and making art, Seydel used the notebooks not simply as a diary or record but as a means of selecting, arranging and composing. Many of Ruth’s journal writings are first drafted there—merging daily life and dreams as Seydel traces the leaps of her acrobatic consciousness from the banal to the hallucinatory, the melancholic to the ecstatic.
In Ruth’s collages, Seydel applied his combinatorial magic to debris from the street, forgotten photographs and faded scraps of paper, transforming earthly detritus into illuminated arrangements whose meanings shape-shift as each collage is “read.” In all of Ruth’s works, Seydel explores the implacability of the artistic impulse, while recording loss, desire and the tenuous but persistent creation of self. “The Eye in Matter” invites the viewer into a world made from the daily, devotional practice of making art, into a world in which the work of art is life itself. As Ruth writes: “I’ll invent who I am, against what is. My time and name: a Queens of the mind.”
Curators: Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft and Lisa Pearson
MORE ON ROBERT SEYDEL
Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse have also co-published Songs of S., a cycle of poems by another of Seydel’s alter egos.
You can read the essay “On the Art of Robert Seydel and the Construction of Ruth” and an interview with Robert Seydel by Savina Velkova on the Siglio Affinities blog. There’s also a conversation at Printed Matter between Peter Gizzi and Richard Kraft, moderated by BOMB senior editor Mónica de la Torre about Seydel and Book of Ruth.
The Robert Seydel Reading Room houses several thousand volumes from his extraordinary personal library in the Harold Johnson Library at Hampshire College where Seydel taught for more than a decade. The opening takes place 4-6 p.m. on September 12, 2014. Read about the process of designing it, and see a glimpse of his library as he left it in his house on Gray Street in Amherst.
CONVERSATION WITH THE CURATORS
Monday, September 29, 2014 at 6 p.m. at Smith College Neilson Library Browsing Room
Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft and Lisa Pearson will talk about Seydel’s work and the exhibition, introduced by Martin Antonetti, curator of the Mortimer Rare Book Room and moderated by Guy Pettit, founder of Flying Object which is co-sponsoring this evening. A reception in the exhibition (in the Book Arts Gallery, 3rd floor) follows at 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Mortimer Rare Book Room: 413–585-2906.