the box the book comes in
This book was a complete surprise to me as I had only previously seen two books by Smith, Text in the Book Format (1989/1995) and Structure of the Visual Book (1985/1995) that are fascinating but rather dry manuals about the role of text and structure in the making of artists' books. Smith has also made a huge number of books with this one coming in at number 288!
This beautifully printed accordion book has none of the dryness of the two mentioned above, indeed it's totally sexy by comparison. I'm going to let the very informative press release from the Visual Studies Workshop serve as the introduction to this work:
"VSW Press is honored to have reproduced a rare “trade” edition of Keith Smith’s one of a kind book Ladies First, his 288th title, from 2013 . Ladies First is a playful exploration of art history and gender.
Keith A. Smith has been creating books as artworks since 1967 following an instinct to bind together a series of his photo-etchings. An extraordinarily productive artist having created over 300 books to date, his life’s work includes many recurring themes, images, and portraits of people close to him.
One of Smith’s great subjects over the years has been the male form rendered in a perfectly fine and sinuous drawn line. Frequently bringing together drawing with photography in his work, his photographs, often made of family and dear friends, are affectionate, intimate, and longing.
Another of Smith’s tropes early on, and throughout his first few creative decades, is the use of transparent material, film positives, as pages. Hand cutting various shapes directly out of the page created yet another form of window to reveal parts of other pages as one read. Whatever is seen through the page becomes part of the composition. In these and many other ways, Smith has made clear that a book artwork is not simply a collection of images. Each page is part of a whole that is the book itself as well the experience of its reading.
Breaking somewhat with the above themes of figuring males, people close to him, and using analog innovations, the subjects of Ladies First are anonymous to Smith and any see-through parts are the work of digital tools, yet he uses similar image combination techniques as in his oeuvre’s analog counterparts. Always readily adaptive to current imaging technology, Smith works here with images found online that he virtually draws on, paints, and sculpts rendering them his, originally.
In Ladies First, Smith is in dialog with the history of art, although in his own distinctive way. The female subjects of formal 18th and 19th Century portraits take younger, wax chested male lovers or transition into men. This references both the practice of exclusively using male models for female subjects until the 19th C as well as our more recent recognition of those of us who are transgender."
32 single-sided pages, individually 13" x 8.5", and when unfolded 22ft 4inches.