"The future belongs to multiples"
René Block the publisher
Edition Block was founded in 1966 and was located at Schaperstrasse in Berlin, next door to Galerie Block, founded two years earlier. Alongside Edition MAT, Multiples Inc. New York and Milan-based Edition del Deposito, Edition Block is thus one of the oldest publishers of limited edition objects and prints by contemporary international artists. In a text penned in 1972 René Block wrote: "In recent years, the production and distribution of multiples and prints has assumed a quite unexpected status within art. The almost unlimited production potential industrial developments offer means that a critical inquiry into industrial production has become a key element of the work of many artists. Wherever you look, the art dealers have taken artists’ focus on the democratization and socialization of the art market seriously and supported the establishment of editions." Here, we can see his intention behind founding an edition, as the focus was on taking up the discussion on the status of the object as kindled by Marcel Duchamp, a debate continued and expanded on in post-War times by Neo Avant-Garde artists and after them in particular by Piero Manzoni, Pop artists and the Fluxus movement. The multiple was not only a way of discussing the problem of the "original", the social status of artistic work and the relationship of art to commodities, as the limited editions also secured the widespread distribution of artistic statements that reflected on the state of art and key issues in contemporary thought. René Block, who presented Neodada, Decollage, and Capitalist Realism in his gallery, took up the debate with his own sure feel for key advances in the concept of art and with his Edition offered artists a platform where they could implement and convey their ideas.
The first Edition Block editions were produced in collaboration with artists associated with the gallery, such as Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, KP Brehmer, KH Hödicke, Sigmar Polke, Palermo or Konrad Lueg and members of the international Fluxus movement, such as Nam June Paik, Arthur Køpcke, Dieter Rot and Robert Filliou. In the years that followed, the program was constantly expanded to include new artists and the latest art forms, and was always influenced by René Block’s Fluxus principle of artistic networking and his interest in the periphery and "artistic side-waters". The result was multiplied artworks such as prints, objects, books, not to mention audio and video works. The two first pieces brought out by Edition Block in 1966 were Wolf Vostell’s "Klammerbuch", which contained the texts on two of his Berlin happenings, as well as Joseph Beuys’ "... mit Braunkreuz", a linen boxed set containing a drawing, a felt cross cut in half, and two texts. According to René Block, Joseph Beuys was initially little interested in making limited edition objects. This soon changed once he recognized the opportunities multiples offered as regards distribution and reach, as they offered him a means to intensifying the relationship to the works’ owners and guiding reception. The first multiple object Beuys made was "Evervess II 1", which he brought out with Edition Block in 1968 in a series of 40 and which highlights his interest in multiplied art. A small wooden box divided into two compartments contained two sodawater bottles of the Evervess brand. One bottle has not been altered, while the other boasts labels made of felt strips. The sliding top to the box contains instructions for the ‘user’: "Sender beginnt mit der Information, wenn >II< ausgetrunken und der Kronverschluß möglichst weit weggeworfen ist." Through 1982 Joseph Beuys devised additional multiples for Edition Block, that either relate to certain of his works, such as "Sledge" (1969), the "Felt Suit" (1970) and "Silver broom and hairless broom" (1972) or were new creations such as "Silence" (1973) or were associated with actions, such as "In Memoriam Georges Maciunas" (1978–82), a piece made together with Nam June Paik. It was with Paik that Block issued the first video multiple in the history of such editions of objects, namely "The Thinker" (1976/78), which conceptually is related to Paik’s first TV Buddha installation. This piece is a good example of how intensely and with what variety Edition Block operated, not only at the level of contents, but also as regards the use of the technical production potential. Many of the works published by Edition Block have since assumed a firm place in the canon of art history. One need think only of KP Brehmer’s "Deutsche Werte" (1967), Wolf Vostell’s "Deutsche Studententapete" (1967), Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke’s "Umwandlung" (1968), Dieter Rot’s "Schokoladenplätzchenbild" (1969), Richard Hamilton’s "The Critic Laughs" (1968–71) or Marcel Broodthaers’ "The Manuscript" (1974
Edition Block’s interest has always not only been on limited editions of objects, but above all on prints and the various printing techniques. Alongside bringing out individual sheets by various artists, it has repeatedly published portfolios, such as the 1967 canvas boxed set entitled "Grafik des Kapitalistischen Realismus" containing silkscreens by KP Brehmer, KH Hödicke, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Wolf Vostell. This was followed in 1971 by the book "Grafik des Kapitalistischen Realismus" with lists of the works of the same artists from 1960 to 1971. That same year, the company also launched "Weekend", a suitcase with block prints by KP Brehmer, silkscreens by KH Hödicke, Arthur Køpcke and Wolf Vostell, offset lithos by Peter Hutchinson and Sigmar Polke as well as an object by Joseph Beuys. And in 1988 the Edition issued a portfolio of prints entitled "Aus Australien", containing 40 sheets by 8 Australian artists. Not only did it present the Australian art scene to a European audience hitherto unfamiliar with it, but also serves as proof of how the center and the periphery mutually permeate each other in the cultural context – a topic that publisher (and later curator) René Block was to concentrate on in depth in the years to come. Block also pursued the strategy of bringing together several artists for a single joint edition, as nascent in the prints portfolios, on other occasions, too. "En Bloc" (1969–72), for example, a castor-based wooden container boasted drawers containing objects made by 19 renowned German artists – today, it is a miniature museum.
Just how much he was interested in multiplied art is evident from various projects on which Block worked outside the Edition. In his function as Chairman of the Association of Berlin Art Dealers he insisted that multiples also be the theme of a trade fair. While the first three International Berlin Spring Fairs that the Association organized in 1969–71 were essentially local in thrust, the 4th Fair was far more international in 1972, which the subtitle proclaimed to be the "First Trade Fair for Multiplied Art" and was devoted exclusively to multiples. The decision sparked a fierce debate in the press on the need for such a trade fair, to which René Block responded in the exhibition catalog by firmly championing the multiple. There he wrote that the important trends in art of the last 20 years and the key ideas of the age had first and foremost been realized in the form of multiples, and admonished the institutions of art for not yet having duly taking this trend into account: "Should the museums not at long last – for many things it is already too late – (...) begin to systematically document the development in ‘modern art’ in the form of multiple originals with due scholarly precision?" And he went on to say "... that the ignorance of public collections continues to ensure that only miniature editions are produced. The result: the normal public can to date hardly afford to buy a multiple. The experiment is in danger of failing." In the same text and fully in keeping with the idea of democratization he suggested that school museums be established in which pupils could familiarize themselves with modern art through the means of multiples. "Concerning themselves with art would then be a matter of course."
In 1972, gallery owner and publisher René Block was invited to curate his very first project: "Grafische Techniken", a show organized by Neuer Berliner Kunstverein. Asked what the intention behind the project was, he replied: "There were no reasons steeped in art history. It simply interested me in the 1970s to place artists such as Hamilton, Brehmer, Rot or Warhol (whose silkscreens or offset prints were not recognized as ‘artistic prints’ – and that continues to be the case as regards taxation and customs duties – alongside the works of classics such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Klinger or Munch. The idea was more to encourage a rethink among art historians of their standard appreciation." One year later, the project was followed by a show at the same venue entitled Multiples. "Ein Versuch, die Entwicklung des Auflagenobjektes darzustellen". Both exhibitions were highly topical and acquainted the broader general public with the lively terrain of multiplied art.
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From 1974 to 1977 René Block’s gallery had a branch in New York and during that time he cut back his publishing work. During this period, he only brought out three multiples: Robert Filliou’s "A World of False Fingerprints" (1975); Allan Kaprow’s "Sweet Wall/Testimonials" (1976); and Roman Opalka’s LP "1965/1-8". In 1979, after 15 years René Block closed down his Berlin gallery, his artists had all become established names and were now able to survive without his assistance. However, he kept the Edition Block alive and it focused in the years that followed on the relationship between the visual arts and music. This also involved projects to which Block now devoted himself mainly through full-time work for art institutions professionally and in part in his free time. By the time he closed his gallery he was already busy on a major new exhibition project on behalf of the Berlin Academy of Arts that was held in 1980: "Für Augen und Ohren. Von der Spieluhr zum akustischen Environment", the world’s first comprehensive compilation of what was then the new field of sound art. And in his work for the German Academic Exchange Service, the DAAD, he was able to bring his passion for this special field of art to bear, as here he worked with not only visual artists but also composers who were in Berlin on fellowships, organizing both exhibitions and concerts for them. From 1981 to 1988, Edition Block primarily brought out multiples in the form of LPs with works by Conrad Schnitzler, David Tudor, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Claus Böhmler, Philip Corner, Henning Christiansen and Gerhard Rühm. One special multiple in the field of music was John Cage’s "Mozart Mix" (1991), the latter’s homage to the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was the first multiplied sound environment, and came out in an edition of 35: a wooden box containing five cassette recorders and 25 endless cassettes of differing lengths with recordings of different Mozart pieces. Five of these cassettes always played at once: The sound mixture that arose constituted a completely new aural experience with John Cage its author.
From 1993 to 1996, René Block worked for Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen in Stuttgart, and from 1997 to 2006 was Director of Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel. His career took him through different fields of activity involving artists and their works, and we can discern a gradual movement away from supporting artists to art museums, and yet it also saw him working on international shows, above all for biennials the world over. During this time, the Edition was inactive, but Block the publisher was not, increasingly focusing on prints. Thus, during his time in Kassel as Director of Kunsthalle Fridericianum, in connection with exhibition projects there it brought out several editions of prints. They included a series of five early block clay prints by KP Brehmer dating from the 1960s (which were re-issued as a special edition), new offset lithographs by Richard Hamilton and Claus Böhmler as well as a series by Ilya Kabakov, Olaf Metzel and Lawrence Weiner, that appeared in the form of individual sheets accompanying the "Chronos & Kairos" show in 1999. In connection with various biennial exhibitions Block curated he was able to persuade the institutions behind the shows to dare produce portfolios of prints. In 1985, "Dem Frieden eine Form geben" appeared on the occasion of the Peace Biennial in Hamburg, a linen boxed set with seven sheets and one object. Robert Filliou, the biennial’s initiator, planned it with the goal of re-uniting "art, science and wisdom" in order to achieve a "new authenticity" and thus contribute to peace being achieved. In other words, the portfolio was a logical way of leaving the local platform of Hamburg and made the artists’ proposal known to a supra-regional audience. In 1990, it was followed by a portfolio called "The Readymade Boomerang" for the Sydney Biennial, that traced the history of the ready-mades and the development of the object since Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Francis Picabia, juxtaposing this to the works of contemporary artists. The portfolio contained 22 sheets that reflected the theme of the exhibition in terms of content/history and at the practical level. The results are correspondingly diverse, for the experimentation with the most diverse of printing techniques gave rise to a set of prints that reflect an entire epoch of developments in prints. Five years later the "Orient/ation" portfolio appeared on the occasion of the 1995 Istanbul Biennial, containing 17 sheets and one object. The biennial focused on a re-orientation in cultural policy and aesthetics, highlighting the center/periphery relationship using the example of Istanbul and the upheaval in contemporary Turkish art. It was a very special change of perspective that was also mirrored in the works in the portfolio, in which the artists responded in very different ways to the subject of orientation. All these portfolios served to multiply the respective exhibition and disseminate a knowledge of them. The exhibition’s artistic thrust was highlighted on a different level than in the particular exhibition itself or an exhibition catalog. A unique constellation, for not only did it bring together different generations of artists but also crossed geographical borders and created a broader dialogue and new opportunities. Indeed, this reflects Block’s notion of the potential of multiplied art.
The subject of reorientation runs like a red thread through the work of curator René Block forthwith, specifically with his ambitious exhibition project "The Balkan Trilogy", that he devised in 2003 for the Kassel Kunsthalle and which led in 2004 to the Cetinje Biennial he curated. In connection with this biennial, Edition Block went back into action and in 2005 brought out the prints portfolio "Love It or Leave It". In line with the topic of the biennial, the works in it primarily address the implications and potential of artistic work in countries typified by instability and conflict as well as the necessity of and chances for change and the formation of new identities. A total of 30 artists from 12 South European countries participated in the portfolio, the most extensive Edition Block has ever brought out. It brings together younger-generation artists relatively unknown at that point in the West (Sanja Ivekovic and Mladen Stilinovic) with internationally established (Marina Abramovic) counterparts and presents young contemporary positions in art in the Balkans.
In March 2008, René Block (and with him Edition Block) returned to Berlin and continued work, in a new exhibition space. Alongside new pieces produced by young artists from Southern Europe, such as Bülent Sangar or Sejla Kameric it also presents old favorites. For example, Danish Fluxus artist Henning Christiansen is on show with "Freedom is round the corner", a neon piece made this year. And musical cross-over artist Carles Santos played the latest Edition Block multiple at the opening: "Das wohlpräparierte Klavier".
In the course of the last 40-plus years, Edition Block has constantly moved along new paths in the field of multiplied art and thus written part of art history. To date, it has brought out 72 works in collaboration with more than 80 artists (three more multiples are currently planned). All in all, it is a wide-ranging network that has included all the experiences of art in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and now with trends in 21st-century art. Joseph Beuys once said: "I am interested in the dissemination of physical vehicles in the form of editions, because I am interested in the spread of ideas ... If you have all my multiples, then you have all of me." Perhaps that is also true of publisher René Block.Barbara Heinrich
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