Legion of Honor Legion of Honor
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
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Museum image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Legion of Honor
100 34th Avenue (at Clement Street)
San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.750.3600

Iliazd: Publishing as an Art Form
Through October 10, 2021

Drawn from the formidable collection of Ilia Zdanevich's work in the Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books, Iliazd: Publishing as an Art Form will look at the work of this Russian Modernist whose collaborators included Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró. Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd) created and published twenty-one artist’s books while working in Paris from 1921–1975, sixteen of which currently are in the Fine Arts Museums' collection. This will be the first US museum exhibition devoted to the work of this under-recognized artist in more than thirty years.

Ilia Zdanevich (1894-1975), a Georgian deeply rooted in the Russian Futurist movement, came to Paris in 1921, where he made himself known as “Iliazd.” He created and published twenty-one artist’s books in Paris, with a list of collaborators that included many of the most famous artists of his time, all of whom considered him a singular kind of genius. Iliazd was not a publisher in the conventional sense but rather a self-publishing book artist who commissioned his more famous peers to produce images for his books. By creating new, expressive visual forms for literature and using the book’s typography, structure, and materiality to create an interactive experience, he advanced a conception of the book as a hybrid work of art.
Image: Naum Granovsky / Iliazd, LidantYU fAram (Ledentu as Beacon), 1923. Pages 52 and 53, Book With 1 Etching With Collaged Embossed Papers On Front Wrapper; Text Printed On Rubel Paper; Green Wrappers With Collage Of Cork, Gold And Silver Paper On Front; Separate 8-page Prospectus In French Entitled Le Dentu Le Phare (Ledentu The Beacon); Unopened Pages. 194 x 144 x 12 mm (7 5/8 x 5 11/16 x 1/2 in.). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the Reva and David Logan Foundation, 1998.40.57.1-1

"An illustrated book by Iliazd is a book by Iliazd, and not a book by Picasso, Miró, or Max Ernst. . . . a standalone work of art just like a painting, a sculpture, a monument, a film. And Iliazd is its true and sole creator."

Louis Barnier, director of the Imprimerie Union, Paris, 1974
In Depth

The Book as a Built Environment—Architecture, Materials, Typography

Iliazd approached the design of the books as an architect would a building, leading the reader through constructed spaces. With Pismo, the books began to evolve structurally to take on qualities appropriate to spaces of sacred ritual or theatrical performance. In many cases, an opening series of blank pages of handmade paper serves as a meditative silent space, evoking the hush one encounters upon entering a cathedral. Iliazd then creates a rhythm for the exposition of text and image, often with unexpected folds and text layouts. These unconventional formats disrupt the normal process of reading and engage the viewer as a participant in the narrative’s unfolding. Iliazd was stringent with artists, regardless of their fame. He sent them engraving plates in specific dimensions, the placement and scale of the images calculated for their performative function within the text. Pablo Picasso never accepted those strict restraints from another publisher, but for Iliazd he willingly complied.

Iliazd and “Everythingism”

“I do not publish editions for monetary gain. I struggle. . . . [I]f I published such and such an author, it is always to bring attention to an unknown . . . to turn the tide of ideas toward him, to revise, once again, human values.”
—Iliazd, letter to Joan Miró, May 4, 1962

Shortly after arriving in Paris, Iliazd said goodbye to his Futurist past but always retained the core vision of “Everythingism” (vsiochestvo), a term he had coined to assert the relevance of expression in all media and from all eras. In subsequent years, his broad interests only strengthened his vsiochestvo, manifested in his penchant for spotlighting obscure, diverse figures, mostly from past centuries, and illuminating their texts with expressive typography and images by major artists. This approach is seen in La Maigre, Le Frère mendiant, Chevaux de minuit, 65 Maximiliana, Le Courtisan grotesque, and Pirosmanachvili.

Iliazd’s Legacy

“The idea that books were not vehicles for distribution, but unique forms of expression, became a central tenet of [Iliazd’s] approach.”
—Johanna Drucker, Iliazd: A Meta-Biography of a Modernist

However valuable it may be on its own terms, the livre d’artiste is most often regarded not as an artwork in itself, but rather as a high-concept container for a suite of fine art prints. In deviating from this norm, Iliazd transcended the genre. Looking at his books today, we see the deep thinking and ingenuity that were the foundations of his practice. We can also see why prominent artists wanted to work with him. With Iliazd, they were collaborators in the creation of complex, hybrid works of art—visual literature. The realization of the book itself as a unified work of art is Iliazd’s enduring legacy.

Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?
May 7, 2021 – November 7, 2021

Over the past two decades, Wangechi Mutu has created chimerical constellations of powerful female characters, hybrid beings, and fantastical landscapes. With a rare understanding of the power and need for new mythologies—the productive friction of opposites beyond simple binaries and stereotypes—Mutu breaches common distinctions among human, animal, plant, and machine. At once seductive and threatening, her figures and environments take the viewer on journeys of material, psychological, and sociopolitical transformation. An artist who calls both Nairobi and New York home, she moves voraciously between cultural traditions to challenge colonialist, racist, and sexist worldviews with her visionary projection of an alternate universe informed by Afrofuturism, post-humanism, and feminism. Mutu’s sprawling exhibition at the Legion of Honor, a museum built for the showcase of European art from antiquity through Impressionism presided over by Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, aims to spur “a purposeful examination of art histories, mythologies, and the techniques of archiving and remembering.”
Wangechi Mutu, "I am Speaking, Can You Hear Me?", 2020 © Wangechi Mutu. All rights reserved. Courtesy the Artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Photography by Gary Sexton. Images courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Mutu’s exhibition at the Legion of Honor, a museum built for the showcase of European art from antiquity through Impressionism and presided over by Auguste Rodin's ​The Thinker​, aims to spur “a purposeful examination of art histories, mythologies, and the techniques of archiving and remembering.” Disrupting The Thinker’s splendid isolation in the Legion’s neoclassical Court of Honor are two bronze Shavasana figures, limp blanketed bodies with polished nails and bright colored stilettos. Flanking The Thinker on either side “like a pair of powerful parentheses,” they both question and reframe the historical context of his creation—a sculptural monument to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno for which The Thinker was originally conceived—in terms of “the violence and bloodshed of colonial invasion and exploitation” as the often unacknowledged “hellish” subtext for “the stories of triumph and victory of the history and the art of the Western world.”

This pairing, and the tension it engenders, serves as a foil for Mutu to introduce a group of new works, including sculptures, collages, and a film that merge the histories, conventions, and traditions of her Western formation with those of her African origins. Alongside four bronzes, including Mama Ray and Crocodylus—two spectacular hybrid goddesses that are part animal, part woman, and part alien—she introduces sculptures made of soil, trees, ash, animals, and gems indigenous to the Kenyan landscape and reflective of formal techniques used in the making of traditional African sculpture, ornaments, battle shields, and protective talismans. According to Mutu, “These relationships and juxtapositions of different materials and symbolic languages, between human behavior and the natural world that have empowered us, describe the long history of creation and self-representation that has differentiated us from other creatures and from one another. It has also been the reason man has justified the rape, dominion, and destruction of all he has encountered.”

Dispersed throughout the galleries of the Legion of Honor, sculptures like I am Speaking, Can you hear me?; ​Mirror Faced; Outstretched; and Sentinel invite the viewer to contemplate the possibility of a world defined by understanding, care, and protection of both people and the planet. Acknowledging the enormity of the task ahead, Mutu’s new film features her in the guise of a horned mythic creature seeking wisdom from the bowels of a holy cave in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Her performance is both a dance and a prayer. In concert with her apse-like installation large strands of beads titled Prayers in the nave of the main Rodin Gallery, it gives shape to her belief in and love for the divinity of the earth, the power of woman, and the potential of art to bespeak and redress the injustices of this world. “It was ​René​ Descartes who said, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ right?” says Mutu. “So, it would therefore follow, ‘I am, because art makes my thoughts visible.’”

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