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Introduction

For centuries, artists have made multipart series, undertaking subjects on a scale not possible in a single work. This approach was especially prevalent in the 1960s, as conceptual, minimalist, and pop artists explored the potential of working serially. Many prominent figures of this period conceived and produced series at Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited), the renowned Los Angeles artists’ workshop and publisher of limited edition prints and sculptures. The practice has continued to the present day: more than 70 percent of the artists who have worked at Gemini since its founding in 1966 have made distinct series. Coinciding with Gemini’s 50th anniversary, The Serial Impulse sheds light on this phenomenon by showcasing 17 serial projects developed by 17 different artists at the workshop over the past five decades: John Baldessari, Vija Celmins, Michael Heizer, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Julie Mehretu, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Kenneth Price, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Susan Rothenberg, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and Frank Stella.

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns proofing Color Numerals at Gemini G.E.L., 1968. Photograph by Malcolm Lubliner

A series is, by definition, two or more unique and autonomous things possessing some commonality and organized sequentially. The principle that unifies and defines a series can be thematic, narrative, iconographic, formal, structural, modular, conceptual, or something else entirely. Likewise, the sequence of works within a series may be dictated by the artist, by an internal system or external logic, or it could be indeterminate. All series involve repetition, variation, and sequence; each component is informed by the previous one and, in turn, informs the next. While works in a series may be (and frequently are) displayed individually, the full effect and meaning of a series can be conveyed only when shown in its entirety. The Serial Impulse follows this logic and, in so doing, serves the original purpose, function, and conception of the works on display.

Gemini provides an environment conducive to serial production, and many of the most influential artists of the past half-century have taken advantage of it. When founders Sidney Felsen, Stanley Grinstein, and Ken Tyler partnered to transform Tyler’s printer-for-hire enterprise (Gemini Ltd.) into an invitation-only artists’ workshop and publisher (Gemini G.E.L.), their first publication was a series by Josef Albers.

printshop

The Gemini workshop, 1968. Photograph by Malcolm Lubliner

“We encourage artists to do a body of work,” Felsen has noted, “I encourage them to stay as long as they will.” Jasper Johns, who first visited Gemini in 1968, recalled that “it was [at Gemini] . . . that I developed a pattern of working in series, because I would go out there for a certain length of time. I usually thought of a group of related works that I could concentrate on during several weeks.” The studio is renowned for embracing technically challenging, ambitious, and complex projects. “Gemini gave you the feeling that they could do anything you wanted,” Claes Oldenburg has said. “If you wanted to make an Airflow multiple that would cost a million dollars that was ok. It was like that.”

Oldenburg-on-air-profile

Claes Oldenburg sanding the mold for Profile Airflow, 1968. Photograph courtesy of Gemini G.E.L.

Gemini has fostered long-lasting and productive relationships with many artists: Ellsworth Kelly has made nearly 300 prints over 45 years with Gemini; Richard Serra has made over 250 in 43 years; and Robert Rauschenberg also made more than 250 in 37 years. Over shorter time spans, Jonathan Borofsky, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein each made over 100 prints, and David Hockney and Frank Stella each made over 90 prints. Gemini has also sustained lengthy relationships with artists such as Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, and Michael Heizer, all of whom have worked at the workshop numerous times over four decades or more. Many of Gemini’s printers have had similarly long tenures, developing knowledge of a particular artist’s processes, aesthetic aims, and communication styles over the span of many projects. The familiarity fostered by repeat visits has encouraged and facilitated long-term and large-scale serial projects.

“Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” These words, Jasper John’s instructions to himself, testify to a belief that the creative process is an open-ended serial pursuit. Richard Serra has, in a similar vein, repeatedly declared, “Work comes out of work.” Likewise, John Baldessari has commented, “You do one thing and that leads you to one thing and then another thing.” Each creative act is informed by the previous one and follows what might be termed an aesthetics of succession. Creativity, in other words, is a serial process. This exhibition explores the serial impulse cultivated at Gemini since it was founded in 1966, revealing a wide range of creative approaches to serial production from five decades of the print studio’s history.

All of the works of art in this exhibition web feature are from the collection of the National Gallery of Art, unless otherwise noted.

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