As promised, I’m posting the longer transcript of my interview with Dan Devening that ran in edited form on art:21 blog this week.

Claudine Ise: What interests you about artist’s multiples as an art form? Given your own focus on painting, how did you come to start a gallery that, in part, focuses on artist’s multiples?

Dan Devening: I guess my interest in editions and multiples probably grew out of a few particular experiences. Foremost is my undergraduate focus in printmaking at the University of Nebraska. I was drawn to the printmakers because they seemed to operate in this cool zone between a kind of macho, working class culture and this incredibly anal technical virtuosity. Plus they seemed to have the most fun; working late into the night, printing complicated multi-color lithos and etchings… and getting little high on all those chemicals that we learned later would probably take years off our lives. The printmaking area was led by Thomas Majeski and Gary Day, two artists who realized that the medium would change dramatically as technology advanced (this was the late 70s by the way) and as a result continually brought in non-printmakers as visiting artists to force us to work the potential of the medium. As students, we would assist or print for these artists, many of whom forced us to solve all kinds of crazy technical problems that may or may not be possible on the press. We aimed to please and were driven by this intense need to prove our worth by handing over an exquisitely printed edition at the end of their visit. Because most of these artists were not printmakers limited by some preconceived technical standard, they approached the process in a very innovative way that forced us to continually search for solutions. The experience was amazing, but I very quickly realized that ultimately, the goal was to produce an “edition;” a suite of absolutely identical prints that were flawlessly produced. My art practice at the time—both in printmaking and painting—had very little in common with the obsessive culture of technical perfection that was the normal standard in that discipline. I was more interested in using the medium to make work that was much more experimental—using the process to make monoprints, lithographs and relief prints had the same look and feel of my paintings…editioning those pieces was not so important. As a result, I went to grad school to study and make paintings and have yet to go back to making traditional prints.

About ten years ago, I started traveling regularly to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. I have artist friends there who introduced me to a contemporary art culture that wasn’t found only in the larger cities, but also seemed to be very important part of just about every small town. Little collectives of interested community members would form “Kunstvereins,” open a small exhibition space and start showing contemporary art. These Kunstvereins could be large museum-like spaces or small rooms within other community cultural projects. In almost every case, these spaces show cutting edge contemporary projects and they inevitably feature editions of exhibiting artists. This is how I started getting interested in contemporary editions and multiples. In these spaces as well as in almost every museum featuring work by contemporary artists, an edition was produced to commemorate the exhibition and would be sold in the museum book store. I quickly became amazed at how affordable and unusual these multiples were. They were almost never a traditional print; instead you would unique photo-works, objects, digital media, video and just about any other medium that could possibly produce a multiple. As long as the work was in multiple form, it worked for this purpose and in most cases was under about $500 depending on the artist. I was immediately struck by this notion of highly accessible work by well established and emerging artists. I started going to museum stores to seek out the editions in their collections…and I started collecting them at the same time. I met several people who only collected editions and they hooked me up with this network of other collectors and sources. The list was incredible.

In 2002, I met a very ambitious young Dutch curator named Robert Meijer who started an edition project called En/Of (Dutch for “and/or”) that paired visual artists with experimental sound artists. The end result of each edition was a double-sleeve album with a 12” vinyl record featuring the sound work on one side and the visual artwork on the other. Remarkably, he was able to convince artists like Olafur Eliasson, Doug Aitken, Martin Boyce, Tobias Rehberger, Jonathan Monk, Thomas Demand, Monika Bonvincini, Simon Starling, Sarah Morris, Liam Gillick and many other very important contemporary artists to participate. Each En/Off edition was produced in 100 impressions and sold initially for about $125 each (now they’re up to about $200). For a collector to have access to an artwork by any of these artists for $125 was amazing and I quickly became a subscriber to the project. I was also invited, as an artist to produce one of these editions with a Chicago improv band called Tiny Hairs as my musical partner. Robert Meijer now has a gallery in Berlin called Luettgenmeijer; he still produces the En/Of series but they aren’t coming out as often as his collectors would like.

The En/Of edition series probably spurred my passion for editions more than anything else. I appreciated the experimental nature of the pairings and the precise parameters within the project. As long as the edition could be produced as a multiple and it fit in one side of the double album sleeve, it worked. Of course I was also amazed that work of this caliber by artists of such renown could be owned by the average Joe. It’s interesting because my context is primarily the the art world, I placed more weight on the renown of the visual artist. It quickly became clear, that Robert was curating and commissioning some significant compositions from important sound artists…he often told me that the some of the sound work was more rare and valuable than the art objects.

Through my contacts in Germany, I was also finding more interesting sources for contemporary editions. Magazines like Parkett and Texte Zur Kunst produced editions available to subscribers with each quarterly issue; there were galleries that focused on editions like Barbara Wien in Berlin and Galerie les Multiples in Paris; Griffelkunst is a group of members (German only) that produce new editions several times a year; and publishers like Schellman Editions out of Munich were offering amazing new work on a regular basis. I started keeping track of these projects and would acquire things when I could, often through the suggestions of edition-obsessed friends who would let me know about special things that came available.

To try to quickly get to what’s happening now, for the past ten years, I had been curating shows I initiated and proposed to various spaces; the curating came out of an interest in exercising an expression of ideas that didn’t fit comfortably inside my painting practice…and this was years before I opened the gallery. The curating also came out of a strong desire to collaborate with other artists on projects that I felt could be explored through group exhibitions. These curatorial projects were more complex and interesting than I ever expected and energized a certain conceptual/administrative/social side that was rarely satisfied when I was working alone in my studio. From sometime in the late 90’s, I did about 7 shows in venues like the Block Museum at Northwestern University, The Gahlberg Gallery at College of DuPage and a few commercial galleries. As my interest in editions grew more serious, I saw my pleasure working as a curator as a good foundation for what I wanted to do next, which was publishing editions. In 2006, I initiated my first serious edition project as a themed, curated suite called “Wherever.” I invited about 17 artists to create an edition in any reproducible medium in a run of 30 that would include 3 artists proofs (one would be for handling and showing, one was archived and the last would be available in the event that someone wanted to acquire the entire collection). The artists included Laura Letinsky, Judy Ledgerwood, Tony Tasset, William J. O’Brien, Mark Booth, Ken Fandell, Carol Jackson, Markus Linnenbrink, Julia Hechtman, New Catalog, Pamela Bannos and others. I would show the editions out of my studio and to curators, collectors and gallery folks on site. I was able to get some attention for the project and despite the fact that wasn’t featured as an exhibition, it was quite successful.

Soon after that project, I was offered the chance to lease a space across the hall from my current studio; that room later became the gallery that I called devening projects + editions. I spent about 6 months completing some necessary renovations, all the while thinking that the room would be a show-space for the editions I continued to show and publish. I needed a space separate from my studio to help clarify the the fact that I was operating both as an artist and a curator/publisher. The publishing was still about collaborating with artists and challenging them to come up with ways to solve a problem: how to make a work that was not a traditional print, that could express something about their work but also operate in this other world of editions. The results were always fantastic. For example, Tony Tasset made Mud Pie for Wherever. Mud Pie was a brown plaster mud pie in an aluminum pie pan (it looked exactly like a real mud pie) with an autumn leaf on top that was made from a sheet of very thin, cut brass and exquisitely painted with oil pigments. In this case, Tony didn’t produce 30 Mud Pies but made the edition available on request and it was produced when necessary. Another good example was a set of hand-tooled leather coasters, designed and produced by Carol Jackson. Carol normally works I leather, but she said when asked about doing this that she’d been thinking about leather coasters for a while and this project was a great way to move that idea to fruition. She made a couple of prototypes to figure out how the sleeve would fit over and hold the coasters and in the end came up with a really awesome edition for the suite. I think Tony and Carol’s editions are great examples of how there are no longer traditional limitations to how multiples are conceived or produced. I continue to encourage that kind of experimentation when I work with artist on new edition projects.

In 2007, I finished the gallery space and decided that instead of using the room exclusively for editions, I would use it as a gallery with editions supporting a broader exhibition concern. My first show was called Preview, a group exhibition featuring artists that would have upcoming solo projects…I also showed a few of the editions. There was work by Rodney Carswell, Zak Prekop, Susanne Doremus and others. The second show in the gallery was Go Between; this was also the second curated edition suite. In Go Between, each artist was asked to produce an edition made up of two parts; a sort of diptych that could work as a pair but also expressed some kind of tension between the two. I got amazing work from Joseph Grigely, Amy Vogel, Matt Stolle, Scott Fortino, Cody Hudson, Helen Maria Nugent and many others. I think there were about 15 artists in this project.

Today after four years as director of devening projects + editions, I probably put a greater focus on the nuts and bolts of running a commercial gallery project but still make it a point to try to get each artist featured in a solo exhibition to produce an edition. For example, Jered Sprecher just made Now & Not Yet, a 5-color silkscreen print on primed and stretched linen. The piece is relatively small—12” x 8”—but I love how Jered as a painter, produced a edition that was so closely tied to his discipline. The result integrates beautifully with the other work he showed in Kabinett 5.  There were also beautiful editions produced by both Richard Rezac and Gary Stephan for Kabinett 1 + 2. Richard used a new inkjet printing process to produce vinyl wallpaper from a recent drawing and Gary Stephan made a small suite of works on paper that were produced by carefully folding and spray-painting each sheet with acrylic enamel. Both of these editions came about as a result of the artists working in a way they had not before; I am particularly joyful when that happens.

CI: How does your work with artist’s multiples feed into the side of your gallery that’s geared toward the exhibition of discrete objects? How do the two parts fit together?

DD: As I said, running the gallery is now the primary focus with the publication of new editions coming a close second. Finding and cultivating artists, scheduling shows, getting people to the space, dealing with press, etc. keeps me very busy. In addition to that I’m still teaching at the School of the Art Institute and making my own work. I guess I see the editions I’m publishing as becoming a sort of beautiful archive of the artists that have passed through the gallery over the years and which reflect something of what my curatorial vision is all about. I also work hard to bring attention to this side of the gallery project and recognize that there is much more that could be do to market the editions to become a more visible and special enterprise. Selling more of them is also a highly desirable goal for both the gallery and the artists, but unlike the culture surrounding editions in Europe, there are still some challenges to getting collectors to recognize how editions might fit comfortably into their acquisition strategy if they’re not already a focus. Maybe there are stigmas attached to work that is editioned; maybe those who might be interested are surprised that the prices are maybe more than expected. Also, I wouldn’t say that the editions I’m publishing financially supplement the gallery as much as one might think (or hope). Although my goal is to showcase this very strong work as affordable, accessible and unique, the reality is that like any luxury item in these tough times, whether or not to buy art—editions or otherwise—is not an easy decision for most people. I see the edition publishing part of my project as a long-term (love) affair to produce, show and promote really special objects by some very interesting artists.

CI: Tell me about the editions you’ll be unveiling at the end of the month by artists like editions by Sigmar Polke, Sarah Morris, Christopher Wool, Rosemarie Trockel, Candida Hofer, and Thomas Scheibitz. Are they new editions? Did you work with these particular artists to create them?

DD: Multiplemix is the show in the off space opening on January 30th featuring new editions to the gallery. It’ll open with the 5th Kabinett exhibition with Andreas Fischer and Melissa Pokorny; there will editions by well-established artists and some very young folks who are making editions for the first time. I was the publisher of only a few of these pieces; the rest were either self-published or are editions I acquired from other sources. The Sigmar Polke, called Oase, is a silkscreen from 1998 and the Rosemarie Trockel etching is called Artist 2000; I just acquired both from Schellmann Editions out of Munich. There are several editions from En/Of with work by David Lieske, Liam Gillick and Jonathan Monk; the Candida Höfer photograph comes from a recent museum show at Museum Morsbroich Leverkusen in Germany; the Sarah Morris is a 23-color silkscreen print that was published by the Whitechapel Gallery in London; the Christopher Wool was printed in 2006 by Brand X Projects/Neptune Fine Art in New York; the Thomas Scheibitz was just released from Texte Zur Kunst; and some fantastic new editions by gallery artists Cody Hudson, Heiner Blumenthal, Nathaniel Robinson, Michael Pfisterer and Dorothee Joachim. This show will also be the premiere for some really exciting new work by young artists Alexander Valentine, Andrew Blackley, Aay Preston, Sterling Lawrence and Dan Leudtke. Finally, I am very pleased to feature a suite of four new lithographs by Dianna Frid that were just published by Sharks, Ink. The studio work was done in December with master printer Bud Shark in Lyons, Colorado; the print is being editioned as we speak. This is the very first time they’ll be shown. If that’s not enough, there’ll be even more new work by well-known and soon to be well-known artists.

CI: Can you take us through the process – both the creative and production sides—of creating an edition/multiple.  To what degree is there collaboration between the dealer and the artist in terms of deciding on the form the multiple will take? And if there is, how does that collaboration/back and forth discussion take place?

DD: In most cases when I propose the publication of an edition with an artist, I’ll show them a bunch of examples of recent work and use those examples to open a door to what’s possible within the project. Mostly, I’m hoping that they’ll take up the challenge and approach the process as an experience that can expose their practice to something new. Because there is the necessity that the work be an edition, the requirement that there be multiple copies of the work sets up a nice set of parameters from which to step  one of the same thing. The artist may have some ideas about how they might proceed and if that’s the case, we’ll start talking about production methods or options. The great thing about doing editions with artists is that they’re artists; they’re trained to be creative problem solvers so I’ve never been disappointed with the editions that have come out of these conversations. For example, a recent piece from Nathaniel Robinson called Dreg is a resin-cast styrofoam cup. It’s a one-to-one replica of the real thing—including teeth marks near the rim—that also includes a set of greasy fingerprints on the inside of the cup. I don’t know how Nathaniel made this edition of three and I don’t think I ever want to know. The mystery of this modest little object is its beauty. My only fear with Dreg is that someone will mistakenly through it in the trash.

Another favorite edition came from Helen Maria Nugent who heads the Design Objects department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I asked her to do an edition for the Go Between project and her solution was really brilliant. She had been gather data from a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University who was tracking eye movements between subject pairs who sat facing each other. He instruments followed eye movements as the pairs looked at each other. Helen Maria took some of these data sets and created computer renderings that were then used to etch both sides of 20” x 16” mirrored plexiglas. The work called Strangers Mirrors, has this beautiful filigree on the surface that allows you to experience the object as both an aesthetic object and a functional mirror—and the viewer becomes a third set of eyes in the cycle.

In almost every case, there are regular conversations between me and the artist when and edition is in process. Usually the artist handles the production and when proofs or trials are available, we’ll usually meet to discuss the results and the next steps. If adjustments need to be made, we’ll often make those decisions together. This isn’t always the case; just as often, an artist will simply deliver the final work. Ultimately the artist makes all the final decisions; I’m only there to offer support and encouragement.

CI: Conceptually speaking, how does the artist settle on a form that he/she thinks would work well as an edition? Should the form of the object strive in some way to be representative of the artist’s larger body of work?

DD: How artists come up with  produce an edition is always different. Some pull from material or ideas contiguous to their regular practice and others see this as an opportunity to move into some new terrain. An example of someone whose editions are close to their other studio work is Jin Lee who’s made several photo editions for the gallery; they almost always come out of a current on-going series. Others, like Julia Hechtman might do something really surprising. For her last solo exhibition, Julia produced Webs, a set of three, 12” square laser-etched mirrors. The etched image comes from a very delicate drawing of spiderwebs that Julia produced from photographs. The web reads a bit like a cracks in the mirror so it has a wonderful dual reading when looking into the reflection. That piece is currently featured in a group show at dok25a in Dusseldorf.

Even if an edition doesn’t “look” like something from an artist’s regular body of work, I’m convinced that conceptually, the edition is inevitably still rooted there.

CI: The development of high-end 3-D printing technology seems like an exciting new possibility for artists – what are your thoughts on this? Have any of the artists you’ve worked with used 3-D printers to create editions/multiples?

DD: None of the artists with whom I’m working have been using this new technology, but I know there are artists who have accessed this area for their work. Karin Sander is an artist living in Berlin who as early as 1998, has been making tiny portrait sculptures using 3-d body scanning. The objects are made of ABS plastic and aluminum and generated using 3-d printing techniques that come directly from the scanned data. She sometimes carefully paints the portraits, but more recently, the material has been left undisturbed. In the early days of her process, the body scanning was said to take about 10 hours; I expect that those times have improved as the technology advanced. It’s not clear if she’s use this project to generate editions. I think that although there is a lot of potential here to produce hundreds of each portrait, she seems instead to subvert that option to produce a single unique example.

I think it’s inevitable that artists will begin using some of the same technologies that product designers are using to produce computer-rendered 3-d objects as editoned works. In fact, I’m sure it’s happening already.

CI: Some people argue that the production of multiples dilutes the power of an artist’s originals. What do you think of this argument?

I can certainly see this as an argument, but for me, editions are simply one of many creative avenues available to an artist. Multiples have their own culture, traditions, audience and possibilities for innovation. I think that for those artists interested in that potential they’ll use it as an avenue to make something new and interesting; maybe even build it as a viable part of their practice. I think Jasper Johns is a really good example of a contemporary artist who throughout his career has fully embraced printmaking as an extension of his oeuvre. He’s been working with the printers and publishers like ULAE for decades and it’s obvious from the way he approaches this work that the medium his offering a material quality that can’t be achieved within other mediums. For example, the effects generated from etching or lithography can only come from the transfer process of ink to paper through a press.

I think for many well-established artists, the decision to make editions may have obvious financial considerations. To offer more studio work to a wider audience just makes sense and many artists will take that opportunity if it’s offered. I would also say that in most cases the work produced by these artists is of such a high caliber, that it does absolutely nothing to diminish their output. There are other artists who work in modes that might be considered edition-related—Zine publishers, poster printers, sound artists—that use the medium to build  larger audiences, demographics that aren’t limited to gallery/museum contexts. This work is often very affordable, usually produced inexpensively using all kinds of ingenious production methods, but still has the weight and resonance of so-called “serious” work. I have a strong interest in just about any kind of work that can have wider distribution as a result of editioning. One good example is The Thing, a quarterly subscription edition project, I think out of San Francisco. One can subscribe to a year-long series of four editions for just $200 and get a wonderful surprise in the mail every few months. The series features both recognized artists like Trisha Donnelly, Chris Johanson, Allora & Calzadilla and Ryan Gander as well as emerging artists like Trevor Paglen and Starlee Kine. This is a great project and artist list and the editions are always very cool…in fact one of the upcoming editions will be by James Franco.

Claudine Isé