Alex Ross, Head Librarian, Art & Architecture Library
Stanford University Libraries acquire archive of contemporary art organization
The Stanford University Libraries have acquired the working archive of La Mamelle, Inc./Art Com, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that was active from the 1970s through the early 1990s and devoted to the support and promotion of avant-garde work in the visual arts, especially performance art, video and publishing activities.
During its heyday, the group, which became known simply as Art Com, organized and sponsored performances and exhibitions; published artists' periodicals, books and ephemera; and functioned as a book and video distributor for artist-produced works. From its inception, the organization focused on building collections to be used for educational purposes. The collections included files of information about artists and the materials they created, including periodicals, artists' books and video and audio tapes, as well as marginal works such as rubber stamps and T-shirts.
"The Art Com archive brings together artistic ephemera that reveals both the extraordinary diversity and wit of conceptual and performance art practices in the seventies and eighties," said Assistant Professor Pamela Lee, the Art and Art History Department's contemporary art specialist.
"In particular, the importance of multiples and documents for the art of this moment is amply demonstrated by the archive's holdings. A student of recent art, notably performance and West Coast conceptualism, will find this an invaluable resource, linked especially to the activities of contemporary art in the Bay Area," she said.
Multiples are objects created by artists that could be repeated, or multiplied, and which some artists hoped could democratize art by making it available in large quantities to the public.
During the 1970s and'80s, Art Com received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. But by the mid-'80s, weary of increasingly conservative government standards for "fundable" art, Art Com became one of the first artist organizations to move away from dependency on grant funding by generating its own support through distributing items such as artists' videos and periodicals.
The organization is currently inactive and most of Art Com's principals in recent years have moved on to other endeavors.
The archive, which comprises 175 cartons of material, contains files, documentation and art works accumulated over two decades when Art Com operated out of a loft space in a commercial building in the South of Market district of San Francisco. The archive includes an extensive file of correspondence, clippings, press releases and other material concerning artists with whom Art Com had a working relationship, including such figures as Eleanor Antin, Chris Burden, Terry Fox, Bill Gaglione, Lynn Hershman, Allan Kaprow, Tom Marioni, Chip Lord, Linda Montano and Willoughby Sharp.
The archive also contains many works in such genres as mail art, artists' books, multiples of various kinds, photo documentation and objects from various performances and video productions. There are perhaps as many as several hundred different works in the collection by such artists as Byron Black, Monty Cantsin, Dadaland, Pat Tavenner, Ken Friedman, Don Milliken and Shozo Shimamoto.
Artists' periodicals generated by artists as a vehicle for disseminating artworks, ideas and coverage of alternative art activities such as performance art and video make up another important component of the collection. Included are examples of several hundred artists' periodicals and 'zines, such as Avalanche (New York), Artzien (Amsterdam), Banana Rag (San Francisco), Centerfold/Fuse (Toronto) Doo Da Florida (Tallahassee), Fandangos (Amsterdam), File (Toronto), High Performance (Los Angeles), Hot Flashes (New York), Impulse (Toronto), and Vile (San Francisco). There is also a complete set of publications produced by Art Com.
Art Com's artists were reacting against what they perceived as a commodification of art, as evidenced by the escalating prices of art works, said Alex Ross, head librarian of the Art and Architecture Library. "Conceptual art was based on words and ideas more than on images and aesthetic value," he said.
The Art Com archive will be accessible to researchers after it has been processed and organized for use. Processing funds are currently being sought by the Stanford University Libraries. The archive eventually will be housed in the Libraries' Department of Special Collections.