Indulging our fascination with famous people, the exhibit More Than 15 Minutes . . . , now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, includes print series in praise of notable personalities by R.B. Kitaj, Anselm Kiefer, and the man who coined the maxim on the fleeting nature of fame in the modern era, Andy Warhol. But while Kiefer and Warhol concentrate on portraits of historical figures, Kitaj offers 50 richly colored, meticulously detailed silk-screen enlargements of book jackets, all from books in the artist's personal collection.
A self-described bibliomaniac, Kitaj titles the series In Our Time: Covers for a Small Library After the Life for the Most Part, inspired by critic Walter Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting." Yet this book collection cannot be read; its covers don't open. There is no there there.
Rather than leave us fans shivering beside the klieg lights, curator Richard Francis has created a handbook with biographies of more than 100 people portrayed or named in the prints. At the end of each biography there are some idiosyncratic cross-references, which seem to include more gate-crashers than invited guests. When entries for Gertrude Stein and Ulysses S. Grant are cross-referenced, we learn that Stein's 1933 book of essays, Four in America, centers on the legendary figures of Grant, Henry James, George Washington, and Wilbur Wright. Though Stein sought to express their different personalities, she also saw her own identity tied up in her conception of the subjects, making Grant a religious leader, Wright a painter, James a general, and Washington a novelist.
Francis turns the viewer into a similarly privileged onlooker, saying we select whom to read more about and often come up with our own correlations along the way. While most of us are unlikely to be famous for the proverbial 15 minutes, we create personal connections between famous names, faces, and histories.
University of Sydney art historian Terry Smith will give a gallery talk on Kitaj's series of book covers at 2 PM this Sunday, March 5, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 237 E. Ontario; it's free with museum admission. Smith, a former member of the group Art + Language, will discuss "the intersection of language, literature, and artistic practice" found in Kitaj's prints. The exhibit remains on display through Sunday. The museum is open 10 AM to 5 PM Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 PM on Sunday. Admission is $5, $2.50 for students and seniors. For more information, call 280-5161.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Reproduction: from "In Our Time" by R. B. Kitaj.