In collaboration with Gerald W. Cloud Rare Books, San Francisco, Maggs Bros Ltd is delighted to present an exhibition of work by the acclaimed contemporary book artist, Didier Mutel. The show features his most recent work, The First Atlas of the United States of Acid, from which the show takes its name, as well as earlier and rare book designs from Mutel’s 40-year plus career as an engraver, book artist, and printer.
The First Atlas of the United States of Acid, 2017, was created in the historic tradition of lavish large format atlases. For centuries, etching and the aqua fortis (strong water - that is, acid) technique were used for the production of maps and atlases, rendering the geographical features and national boundaries that form our understanding of the world with elegantly drawn lines. Mutel’s eponymous etching studio was founded in 1793 as the Atelier Rémond; France’s oldest etching studio in continuous operation, over its notable history it printed the monumental engravings for La Description de l’?gypte (1809-29), among other such publications.
Mutel’s contemporary reimagining, The First Atlas of the United States of Acid represents the geographical borders of each U.S. State, along with each state’s Congressional members. However, correct in their proportional distribution, the members of the legislature have been reassigned by Mutel to artists, musicians, writers and philosophers from the Renaissance to now. In the plate Alabamacid, for example, the House of Representatives consists of Raphaël, Carl Andre, Merce Cunningham, Marcel Proust, François Villon, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Frederic Chopin and Edward Steichen. Meanwhile, cartoon superheroes run the Senate; in this instance, Kilowog (DC Comics).
In the technical tradition of etched atlases, and referencing the history of his own studio, the states in The Atlas are rendered in correct shape, size, and scale, but by the artist’s imagination the work is not a map based in reality as were its historic forebears, but rather a utopian version of a country characterised by hopeful reality and humorous fiction. It has taken close to three years to achieve the first copies of this ambitious work, which was printed on the historical presses of the Atelier Didier Mutel.
Also on show will be R217A (2016), a book by Mutel that reproduces the text of the United Nations Resolution 217A - the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man - made on 10 December 1948 and ratified by the UN General Assembly in Paris by 58 member states. Mutel’s book work, printed in white on white paper, reminds us that these rights can be at times nearly invisible. The work is both an elegant metaphor and a tour de force of craftsmanship and printing.
Didier has said of his work: ‘I am deeply involved with the history, the tools and the techniques of etching and engraving. But my commitment is to feed new and contemporary ways to engrave, and not to engage in a contemplative nostalgia. The artist book is for me a great research geography, which allows all manner of exploration.
‘The rediscovery of its great sensual, sharp and endless attraction, goes farther than just the domain of the artist book, it deals with the way we produce, the time required to achieve exceptional results, and the objects we want to live with—the book for instance not as the memory of an old artifact but as a powerful and living dynamic contemporary field of creation.’
On Saturday 25 November, Didier Mutel will be at Maggs’ Bedford Square premises to discuss his historic engraving atelier (founded in Paris, 1793) and the current challenges for book artists and engravers. The artist will also discuss the development of his practice as a book artist from his early work up through his most recent books.
Tickets are free but booking essential, available via Eventbrite:
Image: Didier Mutel, The First Atlas of the United States of Acid. Plate 8, Alabamacid. Atelier Didier Mutel: Orchamps, France, 2017