IN RESPONSE TO JOAN MITCHELL/MEDITATIONS IN AN EMERGENCY
(Verbatim, the Brooklyn Rail, February, 2016)
As editor with oversight of the entire production of In Memory of My Feelings (Museum of Modern Art, 1967; bound facsimile reprint, 2005), I offer the following additional information about its making, as well as a few corrections:
The MoMA press release for the original publication clearly stated that the forty-six drawings done by thirty artists in celebration of Frank O’Hara were “reproduced [ . . . ] on the actual printed pages. The images in the book are reproductions, not “prints,” and, although printed by way of offset lithography, they are certainly not deserving of the name “lithographs.” In the book proper, both René d’Harnoncourt in his preface and I in my afterword call them “decorations,” a term advanced by Robert Motherwell, who served as consultant on the project, and that term stuck.
Regarding the “light-based process [that] allowed numerous drawings to be layered” as single images for reproduction, in no case did any artist use more than two drawings to make an image. In fact, only three of the artists—Mitchell, John Button, and Jasper Johns—actually overlaid one drawing on another to make an image.
That there were distinct losses in the translation from original to reproduction I freely admit. For one thing, the sepia tone turned out less rich on the page than anyone involved in producing the book had hoped. For another, charcoal, unpredictably, turned out to be a material less likely than the others—ink, gouache, graphite, transfer rubbing, and so on—to assert itself in the offset process.
Perhaps this is why the author of the “Verbatim” piece compared Mitchell’s printed contribution unfavorably with the two sets of two alternate, unpublished drawings in MoMA’s collection, as well as other, similar ones in the Mitchell Estate. In any case, the comparison is ill advised insofar as no reproduction is a match in “subtlety and depth of feeling” for an original.
Anyone interested in further details about the editing and production of In Memory of My Feelings should consult the original press release for the project available online and in the MoMA archives.
BILL BERKSON is a poet and art critic living in San Francisco and New York. He is professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he taught art history, writing, and poetry from 1984 until 2008.