JAIL Gallery is pleased to present “Of Course and Never”, a solo exhibition of paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Wendy Heldmann. Library aisles appear in Heldmann’s paintings as they are never seen. Tomes slump in their shelves, books lie in unintelligible piles on the floor, and periodicals are strewn across aisles, defying the organizing principles that make their contents accessible. The entropic state of these compositions is amplified through a use of paint that further enacts such a state. Whether alluding to the obsolescence of tactile information systems such as libraries, allegorizing the innavigable results of an obtuse google search, or simply documenting the varying degrees of disarray left after a thorough ransacking, “Of Course and Never” oscillates between affirmation and negation of each perspective.
“In Our Time: Covers for a Small Library after the Life for the Most Part” is a loose-leaf portfolio of fifty screen prints from 1969 by the American artist R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007), then living in London. Six of the fifty are presented in the project space at JAIL Gallery, in memoriam, by curator Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer in conjunction with Wendy Heldmann's paintings of library aisles, “Of Course and Never”. Each silkscreen depicts a single book cover drawn from Kitaj's idiosyncratic library at the time of production, which was full of second-hand specimens, novelties, and rarities. The series is a paean to the artist's 'bibliomania,' a term he borrows from Walter Benjamin (of whom he was an avid and early reader) to describe the beauty and madness of book collecting, a passion with erotic overtones of acquisition and the intimacy of handling in private. Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting" (1931) was important to Kitaj and its insights are everywhere embedded in the conceptualizing of these prints. Situated within the context of Kitaj's figurative drawing and painting practice for which he is widely known, which was centered on his ardent commitment to life drawing and littered with references to literature, the book covers of “In Our Time” can be recognized for their anthropomorphic qualities as so many book spines, faces, spreads, and bodies clothed in covers, sheets, jackets, and sleeves. For Kitaj, bibliomania and the thrills reading can offer are related to the libidinous desire aroused by the female nudes he so often depicted. He was a great reader.