Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter Queens Museum, July 19–September 27, 2015

Curated by Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft and Lisa Pearson

events, 07/19/15

Artwork by Robert Seydel. Courtesy of the Estate of Robert Seydel.

Queens Museum, New York City
July 19–September 27, 2015

Smith College Neilson Library, Northampton, MA
September 2–December 15, 2014

Curators’ Statement

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in A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth) and almost one hundred collages (many previously unpublished and unexhibited with some previously appearing in Book of Ruth), this exhibition features Seydel’s notebooks (Knot-books), open to pages that reveal glimpses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.”

Download the PDF brochure

On the occasion of the exhibition, Siglio published A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth, and copublished, with Ugly Duckling Presse, Songs of S. In a kind of virtual vitrine, excerpts from Seydel’s “Knotbooks” are featured in the post “The Rabbits Are the Stars.”

Emmy Catedral with Nathaniel Otting, in conjunction with Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse, curated and organized a series of gatherings of artists and writers to address, to read, to perform, to pay homage to the life and work of Robert Seydel, his alter ego Ruth Greisman, and her friends Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, et al. All events took place at the Queens Museum.

Art a Grammar, Grammar a House: A Gathering (or, Artist-Writers: A Weaving), July 26, 2015
with Cecilia Vicuña, Maria Damon, Emmalea Russo, Rachel Valinsky, Lanny Jordan Jackson, Zanna Gilbert, Anna Gurton-Wachter, and Alan Gilbert.

Plaid Duchamp Record in Magenta, August 16, 2015
with Stephanie Gray, Paolo Javier, and Harry Roseman

“Quails rise”: “R’s Queens” Reprised, September 27, 2015
with Renee Gladman, Ross Simonini, Jane Carver, Stefani Barber, Sarah Wang, Simone Kearney, Shanxing Wang, Sophie Seita, Sarah Jane Stoner, Simone White, Andre Bradley, and Lauren van Haaften-Schick.

more about Robert Seydel

an interview in A Picture Is Always a Book
“Arranging One’s Books,” a photographic portrait of Seydel by Richard Kraft
“On the Art of Robert Seydel and the Construction of ‘Ruth,'” essay by Lisa Pearson
the Seydel Collection at the Hampshire College Library
“Robert: Seydel: A Short History of Portraiture” at Hampshire College Art Gallery

about the author

A prolific artist and writer, Robert Seydel (1960–2011), created a multi-layered, highly original body of work marked by both an unrelenting sense of play and an extraordinary and eclectic body of knowledge. Seydel’s ongoing and interrelated series incorporated collage, drawing, photography, narrative and lyric writing, often using various personas and fictional constructs. In 2000, Seydel began a vast series of works using the alter ego Ruth Greisman, who was inspired by his aunt of the same name, including the “journal pages” collected in A Picture Is Always a Book (Siglio, 2014) and the works Seydel himself selected for Book of Ruth (Siglio, 2011). Other Seydel alter egos and invented personas include S., author of the Songs of S. (Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014), Saul Greisman (“scholar of sewage”), Eckstein-Sousa (“sometimes lecturer and a kind of [failed] poet with Proustian leanings”), and R. Welch (a professor developing a theory of “the biochemical construction of Charismatic figures”), among others.

In addition to the exhibition “The Eye in Matter,” Seydel had a single solo show, curated by Peter Gizzi, at CUE Art Foundation in 2007 and his work was also exhibited, and “Five Contemporary Visual Poets” at the Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle curated by Joshua Beckman. A beloved professor at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for more than a decade, he also served as curator at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University for a number of years where he organized ambitious exhibitions and programs. Seydel also edited Several Gravities (Siglio, 2009), a volume of collages and poems by National Book Award-winning poet Keith Waldrop.

see also

✼ the improbable:

A miscellany of investigations, rants, manifestos, meditations, studies, lists, questionnaires, film scripts, and more in Issue 1, No. 1 Time Indefinite. We’re posting contributions, one by one.


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