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The Wall Street Journal Talks to Primary Information About Traditions of Artist Publishing, Anthology of Concrete Poetry Reprint

By Harriet Staff


A great article about the art-book publisher Primary Information is up at The Wall Street Journal! Co-founders James Hoff and Miriam Katzeff talk about two upcoming releases: “One is ‘An Anthology of Concrete Poetry,’ an avant-garde title that sold 19,000 copies when it was originally published in 1967. The other is ‘Quincy,’ by the sculptor Carl Andre, which had a small print run in 1973.” The anthology is a welcome reprint; it was the first comprehensive American anthology focusing on the international movement of Concrete Poetry, and features 77 writers/artists from over a dozen countries: More:

Original copies of “Concrete Poetry” have been known to fetch more than $200 among collectors, but the book has long been out of print. Primary Information is bringing it back to bookstores in facsimile form. A used copy of “Quincy” can cost $700, but Primary Information’s reprint is priced at $20.

“We try to match everything as closely as possible,” said Miriam Katzeff, Mr. Hoff’s business partner. “We have to add a bar code and ISBN number that’s just ours, but a big part of our conversation is how to let material speak for itself and give the feeling of its time. We want to have a really small footprint.”

Mr. Hoff and Ms. Katzeff started Primary Information in 2005, in a nod to the tradition of artist publishing that flourished in New York in the 1960s and ’70s. That was the era of enterprises such as Something Else Press, which thought of the book as a self-contained medium for art projects that could be installed between two covers and passed around. Work by writers like Marshall McLuhan and Gertrude Stein shared a home with more artistically expansive books by Claes Oldenburg and Dick Higgins, the Fluxus artist who founded Something Else in 1963.

“He really believed in the idea that the book could exist as a vessel for art and that the artist book could entertain the same place in the American fascination as the Harlequin romance novel,” Mr. Hoff said of his forebear. “He hired door-to-door salesman to sell these.”

Rescuing and republishing past classics has been the focus of Primary Information from the start, when Mr. Hoff and Ms. Katzeff met while working at the New York art-book store Printed Matter. Projects they have published since include a boxed-set reproduction of the ’70s art journal Avalanche and “Destroy All Monsters Magazine,” a compendium of art and writings from the endearingly strange rock band affiliated with the artist Mike Kelley.

As a publisher, Primary Information has helped make rare material more widely available, said Branden W. Joseph, an art historian at Columbia University, “taking it out of the hands of collectors and research libraries and putting it in the hands of younger artists, curators and historians.”

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, December 9th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.