An Art Press for the Ages
The nonprofit Minerva Projects and the books it publishes under the imprint Minerva Press is, by design, unmoored. Its guiding philosophy is defined by a commitment to the redistribution of authorship and a grounding in archival research and under-represented histories. My decision to invest time, resources, and intellectual capital into a new venture with this focus is a reaction to the streamlining of art production for easy consumption, a phenomenon affecting many exhibitions and books being produced today. I am exhausted by hyper-linear approaches that decide relationships among artists, curators, publishers, and the many different people whose skills contribute to the art ecosystem.
Minerva is thus not tethered to the capital of large commercial galleries, foundations, or philanthropy in the standard sense. A stable of writers and artists, of passersby and long-term visitors build a community that is welcomed and nurtured. Our program and books are made possible by the support of a growing community of artists and their supporters.
The work of Minerva is a refusal.
We refuse to bend, to serve the wants of those who demand explicit bullet-point thinking. Today, contemporary art eschews ambiguity and expects transparency, unlike the forms of film, literature, and music. It is time to re-apply elastic thoughts and thinking to the ways we tell the story of art.
As Minerva takes form, exhibitions are treated as a petri dish. Minerva Projects and Minerva Press have a symbiotic relationship, a dynamic process of telling an artist’s story, origins, and trajectory with participation by other artists, designers, curators, archivists, historians, and audiences. We create social, environmental, immersive events in which researchers, technicians, and interpreters collaborate and develop an idea, history, or body of information, and generate material by multiple authors.
Attribution is hyphenated through this process of meaning-making. Minerva Press creates literary phenomena in a public, made of different publics. Difference is more useful than diversity, per Homi Bhabha’s theory of hybridity. By redistributing authorship among the thoughtful, the observant, and the curious, we undermine and diffuse the antagonism and anxiety produced by siloed experts who assign value to objects.
Radical outlooks have historic roots. We harvest interpretive tools from archival research. We listen to echoes and look in shadows to generate informed questions. The past pulls us out of the weeds and offers a birds-eye view of how artists and their work are remembered or disappear from record.
Our namesake has served publishers before. The Minerva Press of the 1920s produced the magazine Amauta, both founded by José Carlos Mariátegui. A historic cultural hub, Amauta published the most innovative authors of the period, working globally, thinking through culture, with attention paid to the place and role of indigenous peoples in Peru, from a Marxist position, with the conditions of labor and its valuation percolating throughout its critique. These materials are digitized and available online, and are the subject of a substantive and important exhibition currently touring.
More than a century before the rise of José Carlos Mariátegui’s magazine and press, the first Minerva Press was located in London. This publisher of popular Gothic novels boasted an unrivaled roster of women authors, circa 1745 to 1814. The imprint, whose titles are being reprinted, was a source of pulp fiction and livelihoods. True visionaries, the press innovated a circulation system by setting up lending libraries. Many a woman artist found freedom writing stories for this market. The period and its writers are remembered in Jane Austen’s writings. She demonstrates a radical strategy in fiction by writing books about books and including women authors who had been erased.
Our books will not be a definition. Rather, they will be a roadmap, an access point to an artist’s archive. They will specify the social, historical, psychological, physical, spiritual, and ideological conditions of its genesis. We will champion artists that know they confuse and muddle the contemporary through their refusal to erase context, mute stories and specificities, tolerate exoticism, or retreat into surface readings based on news-cycles as featured in the art market. Artists are not relegated to being area experts on the geographical, ethnic, or religious. Here, they are understood, written about, discussed with attention, and effort paid to the particulars of the languages they speak, the communities they inhabit, the stories of their ancestors. As we convene to configure meaningful language and represent their work, in pages bound with care and attention, I can’t help but wonder about future readers who look at our books, deepening their reading of this time and its artists. Of the touch points that we conjure, what will be evoked? What will be remembered? What will be translated and how will it be interpreted? Minerva assures the possibilities.
Yasmeen Siddiqui is founding director of Minerva Projects, editor at Hyperallergic, and core-faculty at the Chautauqua School of Art. Minerva Projects is an incubator space launched in Denver, Colorado, and based in Pine Plains, New York. It is a site where curatorial ideas are tested in service to publishing books.Collaborating on multiple fronts with art historian, Alpesh Kantilal Patel, Siddiqui is co-editing the forthcoming volume on art history in the Intellect Books Series, “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life.”Siddiqui’s past subjects in writing and curating have included Do Ho Suh, Consuelo Castañeda, Hassan Khan, Linda Ganjian, Pia Lindman, Lara Baladi, Mary Carothers, Matt Lynch and Chris Vorhees, and Mel Charney.