SAGA: 13th Engraving and Print Show
In an exhibition of illustrations, I got few.
Surprise Find: the 'Futurists'
Paris:- Wednesday, 24. March 1999:- One day is overcast with rain or the threat of it, and the following is bright and spring-like. For the last day of this year's Salon du Livre, it is spring-like.
Last day is last day so I am at Paris-Expo and in the big hall again. Reattached to this year's book fair is a sub-expo called 'SAGA.' This stands for prints, engravings, book bindings, art books, drawings and photographs. What the letters 'SAGA' stand for, I don't know.
Before getting to where it is located in its own corner of the exhibition hall, I get snagged in the territory of the regional publishers again. At what must be one of the smallest stands in the building, I meet Bernard Dermineur of 'Références cf,' who seems to be loaning some of the tiny space to the Librairie Decitre.
Maybe they are all one and the same with Mr. Dermineur, who seems to know everything about book references and the book business in the frontier regions. Talking to him is a bit different; because he not only knows what is inside France but what is without.The whole Salon du Livre, with the SAGA on the horizon.
On the stand, one of his daughters is doing some Web thing like making a site, while Mr. Dermineur is talking to me. Talking to me is not, strictly speaking, business, or showing me books; but talking about the book trade and doing it in French, German and English. If I knew Italian, I'm sure it would have been included too.
The conversation went on for at least 40 minutes and covered about 40 subjects. One-eighth of this was about the Russians at the Musée du Montparnasse, and a map had to be drawn for this so Mr. Dermineur wouldn't end up over on the Edgar Quinet side, in the cemetery.
One of the big reasons for the Salon du Livre is to actually sell books to the public; and not to talk about the book business. It is only at the small stands where it is possible to talk to publishers, and on the last day with the end in sight, the talk can be wide-ranging. Which is also a way of saying, I don't remember many details of the 40 subjects.
So, after a prolonged goodbye, I beetle across the building to the SAGA, for a crash-visit. The first thing I see are presses for printing engravings. These can be as little as 30 by 60 centimetres, weighing 35 kilos and costing 5,500 francs at the factory near Paris - or as much as 90 by 160 centimetres, weighing 800 kilos and costing 90,000 francs.
The big ones are impressive-looking machines made of heavy metal, with great big hand-wheels for turning the ink cylinder and propelling the stone table. A fellow I knew once, had one made, about twice as large as the ones offered here and had to have his house torn apart to get it in.
None are being demonstrated, so I get no photo. Engraving has always been a mystery to me. I've read about how it is done and I have some on my walls, but it is a lot more complicated than putting lines on paper - and therefore, due to limited print-runs, engravings are often collector's items as well as manufactured pieces of art.
In price, engravings, or lithos, are usually less expensive than hand-made, one-off paintings. However, with the heavy techniques involved, they require real craft. This is what astute collector's are willing to pay for - for the value of the handcraft. The also pay for the subject and the paper it is printed on.
I am told that there are 550 modern art galleries in Paris. Each year, about 50 fail and another 50 start up. Some galleries handle both paintings and engravings and some specialize in one or the other.
If each gallery represents an average of ten artists, then there are about 5,000 of them with works in the galleries in Paris. If I continue on this line my mind will boggle if I throw in the artists who are not in the galleries - some choose not to be - and add in the 'art' photographers, the sculptors and all of the other definitions of artists.The newspaper Libération was one of the first to regularly feature multimedia topics.
None of the variety of demonstrations scheduled are taking place during my visit, so I remain ignorant of the techniques of engraving. I've always felt if I could see it done once, I would be able to grasp it.
I take a quick tour of this expo-inside-an-exhibition; because I am not going into every temporary gallery to look at each individual print. Odd items may be around the fringes, and it is easier to get an overview of these.
One small booth has a table with some papers on it and a sign on the wall saying, "Scriptus Intus et Foris," all in roman caps. This does not look like 'engravings' to me, so on impulse - one of my favorite reactions - I ask Elizabeth Lagerkrantz what this is about.
"Futurist," she says. I look blank. Madame Lagerkrantz tries out variations of the word on me and I still don't get it. Then she shows me a jumbled image composed of newspaper clips, drawings and scribbles, photographs - sort of like an eccentric collage. It doesn't look like a graphic, so I wonder what it is doing here.
A 'famous' manifesto appeared during 1909 in Le Figaro, which expressed - with violence! - because 'futurism' generated a drunkenness with liberty, winning words, which affirmed a transcendence and demanded a state of constant excess. Hmm? It was called the 'Technical Manifesto of the Futurist Literature.'
A framed copy of this edition of Le Figaro is on a wall of the booth, but it is much too long to read. Even the short press clippings about the exhibition are difficult going
On the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Italian poet, Marinetti, in 1994, his grandson Leonardo Clerici chose Brussels and the Bibliotheca Wittockiana for an exhibition of 'futurist' texts, on the grounds that the avant-garde was well represented by the plastic arts, but not by its literature. The exhibition's purpose was to redress the balance.Elizabeth Lagerkrantz bravely poses for a 'futurist' portrait.
The exhibition turned around three names: Marinetti, Malevitch and Breton. In some way, the 'green candle' of Alfred Jarry gets in here too, although Jarry died two years before the manifesto's publication.
If it makes it any clearer, I will add the words cubism, surrealism, symbolism, constructivism; or realistic cubism - all of which seem to be absent from my 'Introduction to Western Philosophy.'
One thing, which I can understand, which the two press clippings do agree on, is that one shouldn't leave the exhibition, without the catalogue - which might be 'La Musa Metallica de F.T. Marinetti,' by Leonardo Clerici. Or it might be 'L'Oracle de l'Avant-Garde,' which contains 752 illustrations or collages of text; 'lyre l'âme futuriste.'
The conversation with Madame Lagerkrantz seems to make sense while I am here, but when I later try to reconstruct the meaning of the dialogue, I end up with nothing but confusion. This may be because 'futurism' has few followers today, although the future is as near at hand as always.
What is real, are the catalogues. These are limited-editions; hand-made - and is the 'raison d'être' for 'futurism' to be at this salon of prints and engravings. At least, I think this is the reason.
Outside, the weather has held to its best and I am determined to get the photos that got away from me last Wednesday when I thought my camera was full up.
At the Pont Neuf there is a lot of low sunlight and a good number are taking advantage of it on the bridge. To the west, the crowds on the Pont des Arts are all backlit, forming an almost solid, moving mass with the Louvre bathed in golden light behind. Nothing pataphysical about it at all.
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