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WCMA Blog

Asco: The Book

Asco book

Putting together the book for Asco: Elite of the Obscure was one of the most challenging and gratifying experiences I have had as a curator. Co-organized by WCMA with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the exhibition Asco: Elite of the Obscure is the retrospective of the Chicano performance and conceptual art group Asco.

The book acts as an exhibition catalogue and so much more. It consists of twenty essays by sixteen authors, along with reprints of key historical documents, including interviews with the artists, and new critical essays by scholars from a variety of fields.

Asco Book 19

This spread shows one of the historical documents reproduced in the book’s back matter. The image at lower left (taken by Tim Gergen) is one of the earliest known photographs of Asco.

The book was edited by co-curators C. Ondine Chavoya (Williams) and Rita Gonzalez (LACMA). Possibly the most complicated project I’ve worked on to date, we liked to say that we worked bi-coastally and bi-continentally on this book. New York City was the home of our fantastic eagle-eyed copyeditor Audrey Walen; the book was designed by the crack team Tracey Shiffman & Alex Kohnke with Deanne Oi in Tracey’s lovely Santa Monica studio; reproductions/images were expertly color corrected and managed at Echelon in Venice, CA; proofread by Vajra Spook in Berlin; our co-publisher (Hatje Cantz) and printer (Cantz) are respectively located in Berlin and Ostfildern, Germany.

Working between the various time zones is not for the faint of heart. Most days I came into the office to find emails waiting for me from Germany (six hours ahead of us in Williamstown) and went home at night to emails coming from Los Angeles (three hours behind). Very often, in the height of the project, we’d all find ourselves working into the wee hours of the morning via email to keep on deadline.

To complicate things, the kinds of materials and images we were working with were not readily available from a central image repository or even from other museums. Publishable-quality images needed to be gathered and scanned from artists. Although some of the Asco artist’s materials are located in archives, some important work had not been exhibited or photographed in decades. Ondine has spent years working in the archives, even helping place and process their materials in public institutions such as UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. Through the organization of the exhibition, even more material was uncovered doing archival research and spending time with the Asco artists, going through their personal collections and following additional research leads.

Asco Book thermography

Our talented designers created a book that had the look of the era in which Asco worked.  On the cover, they used what is called thermography—that’s the raised, rubberized black that has a very ‘80’s feel.  Every detail was considered, down to the uncoated paper that would allow the ink to be soaked up and the images to be printed as richly as possible.

Asco Book 13

I have to admit that I get excited every time I open up the book and realize that this is the tome that students and scholars and art lovers will refer to when they want to know more about Asco’s important contributions.

The long gestation and hard work on this project has paid off, and the reaction to the book has been very positive. We won the 2012 New York Book Show Award for a design of a Scholarly/Professional Book. Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight included Asco: Elite of the Obscure in his Best in Art 2011.

LA Times Best in Art Asco book

Asco in LACMA shop

Asco in the LACMA Shop.

Asco at Getty PST shop

Asco in the Getty Pacific Standard Time shop.

This project could not have come to fruition without the support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

To purchase the book call the Williams College Museum Shop at (413) 597–3233.

Kathryn Price, Curator of Special Projects and Managing Editor of Asco: Elite of the Obscure.

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