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James Collins

James Collins (Born in Northampton, UK in 1939) was a conceptual artist, photographer, painter and writer-critic. Moving to the USA at the age of 31 he frequently travelled back and forth between the countries until finally settling in his land of birth until his death in 2021.

 

His earliest work was as an art theorist and he found a home in the US wing of the conceptual art group Art & Language that was based around Joseph Kosuth and the Fox publication. He wrote a number of articles for the group and also a number of stand alone important artist’s books such as Revision and Prescription in 1971 but was criticised by some in the British wing, of the oft intolerant group, because of his commercial articles in art magazines. He exhibited in the important Narrative Art exhibition in Galerie Templon, Paris in 1979 and before that in Lucy Lippard’s 3,549,000 conceptual initiative in Buenos Aires.

 

In the mid 70s Collins created a number of very important conceptual art works usually referred to as Introduction Pieces – he accosted strangers in the street and asked them to take part in small, easy actions (such as showing him some treasured item in their possession or introducing two strangers to each other). Usually these works were accompanied by photographs by Collins or even a commercial produced strip of portraits if they could be persuaded to follow the artist to one of the photobooths usually found in London’s train stations and post offices. He also collected signed certificates by the participants indicating their agreement to be taking part in a work of art: sometimes those certificates were in themselves the artwork. These clearly conceptual works overlapped the artist’s increasing interest in photography.

 

He began to be better known as a photographer in the mid-1970s when a series of colour and b/w images of himself typically gazing at women – usually with a considered physical or abstracted gap between them – were exhibited giving the impression of alienation or even distrust between the figures. These works were often considered as part of an emerging movement concerned with inferred narrative in art called “Story Art” along with other artists such as Bill Beckley, Mac Adams and Peter Hutchinson. His later photographic career was even more concerned with erotica – with his hiring models to pose for him often with a mild sexual frisson.

 

His method of creation usually took the form of short Super 8 films from which he selected still images for display. In some installations (such as at Documenta 6) he showed still images alongside the films as installations.

 

Collin’s career continued with him creating many paintings in pastel or oils again of women (usually using photography or film as source material) but his seeming obsession with the female form and its sexuality became tired and even objectionable with the rise in feminist criticism of the “male gaze”. By 1988 as exhibitions began to be less frequent he regarded his career as being in the doldrums and while he continued to paint (mostly in pastels), he became something of a recluse with depression and other mental health issues. He continued to take photographs throughout his late career but the imagery was often his own painted works.

 

While the criticism of his pronounced “male gaze” is a fair one, Collins artistic practice is both historically and aesthetically important – some have suggested his post-modernist objectification of gender roles predates the work of Richard Prince and Jeff Koons and much of his mid-career and late photographic output may be seen as studies in gender psychology. His death in 2021 was sadly a lonely one.

PERFORMANCE-DURATION PIECE. NO 10 OF “STRANGERS”. 1970. UNIQUE CONCEPTUAL ARTWORK.

London: s.p. (Collins), n.d. (1970) 27 x 20.5cm, 1pp original xerox sheet. The sheet has a text: "This is to certify that James Collins is a complete stranger to me and that he approached me:" and with the fields "Place/Time/Date" completed by the subject of the work. The text continues "and that I agree to participate in an art work where I understand will consist of a promised physical action from four complete strangers independent of each other. The following are my own choices:" The fields "(a) Description of action:/(b) Length of time:/ (c) Time of day (d) Location:/ (e) Date:" which were filled in by the subject of the work. The text continues: "I will keep a copy of this form and promise to carry out the specifications above. Signed:" The sheet has been filled in with the responses "Drink one point of beer/10 minutes/1-30/Wandsworth/21 September 1971" by the subject and signed by someone but the name cannot be easily read Collins has mounted the xerox onto card for exhibition using two strips of adhesive tape. Essentially this is a vintage conceptual art works by Collins who in the 70s was interested in the dynamics of strangers meeting new people (including the artist). Such works are mentioned in Lucy Lippard's Dematerialisation of the Art Object and this is a rare find purchased directly from a friend of Collins who was given the works as a gift in the artist's last days. VG + condition but are tipped onto the card using tape at the top and bottom.

£395.00

INTRODUCTION PIECE PART A NO 8 OF “STRANGERS”. 1970.A UNIQUE CONCEPTUAL ARTWORK.

London: s.p. (Collins), n.d. (1970) Two original xerox sheets - 27 x 20.5cm, 1pp. The sheet has the following text: "This is to certify that James Collins is a complete stranger to me and that he approached me -" and with the fields "Place/Time/Date completed by the subject of the work. The text continues "and I agree to participate in an art work where I'm introduced to a complete stranger. The piece would be documented by a photograph showing the meeting taking place. Signed:" The two sheets have been filled in by the two participants in the work called J.Roger Robbins and J R Hoggan (we think) and dated May 14 1970 at Oxford Street and signed by both on separate sheets. There is also a large 26 x 37cm original b/w photograph by Collins on thick photographic paper of the two participants meeting and shaking hands. Collins has tipped both the form and the card together onto a single 29 x 41cm sheet of card for a home-made exhibition. This is a unique vintage conceptual art works by Collins who in the 70s was interested in the dynamics of strangers meeting new people (including the artist). Such works are mentioned in Lucy Lippard's Dematerialisation of the Art Object and this is a rare find purchased directly from a friend of Collins who was given the works as a gift in the artist's last days. Both form and photograph are in VG+ condition but are tipped onto the card using tape at the top of the sheet/photograph.

£2,750.00

INTRODUCTION PIECE PART B NO 8 OF “STRANGERS”. 1970. A UNIQUE CONCEPTUAL ARTWORK.

London: s.p. (Collins), n.d. (1970) Two original xerox sheets - 27 x 20.5cm, 1pp. The sheet has the following text: "This is to certify that James Collins is a complete stranger to me and that he approached me -" and with the fields "Place/Time/Date completed by the subject of the work. The text continues "and I agree to participate in an art work where I'm introduced to a complete stranger. The piece would be documented by a photograph showing the meeting taking place. Signed:" The two sheets have been filled in by women called D. Langley and C. B. WIllis (we think) and dated May 14 1970 at Oxford Street and signed by both on separate sheets. There is also a large 26 x 37cm original b/w photograph by Collins on thick photographic paper of the two participants meeting and shaking hands. Collins has tipped both the form and the card together onto a single 29 x 41cm sheet of card for a home-made exhibition. This is a unique vintage conceptual art works by Collins who in the 70s was interested in the dynamics of strangers meeting new people (including the artist). Such works are mentioned in Lucy Lippard's Dematerialisation of the Art Object and this is a rare find purchased directly from a friend of Collins who was given the works as a gift in the artist's last days. Both form and photograph are in VG+ condition but are tipped onto the card using tape at the top of the sheet/photograph.

£2,750.00

POSTAL NRS 2 – 8. 1970 – 1971. AN INCOMPLETE BUT CONTINUOUS RUN OF THIS IMPORTANT CONCEPTUAL MAIL ART PROJECT.

London/New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/1971 Seven separate publications all from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. Missing only the very first (rare) number this is a continuous run that comprises the following: INTRODUCTION PIECES POSTAL 2 1970 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and introducing them to other complete strangers. One b/w self portrait and tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+. DELEGATION PROPOSAL 1 POSTAL 3 1970 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and photographing the meeting. One b/w portrait of one such meeting and tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing. INTERIM TRAVEL PROPOSAL 1 POSTAL 4 1970 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and photographing the meeting in London, Paris and New York. Tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing. ’SET” PIECE 3 POSTAL 5 1970 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and asks them to write a message to him. Tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing and there is a mailing address slip glued on but deliberately with a second label over the top. Collins had moved to the USA by this point and this was the first POSTAL sent out from NYC. SEMIOTIC ASPECTS POSTAL 6 1971 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Text in English discussing the role of messages in semiotics . VG+ although folded for mailing. CONTEXTS POSTAL 7 1971 21 x 15cm, 8pp. Stapled. Texts in English, German and French taking quotations from “Semiotic Aspects” where the artist considers the role of messages in semiotics . VG+ although one slight dog ear bottom right on the first two pages. CONTEXTS POSTAL 8 1971 21 x 15cm, 8pp. Stapled. Texts in English, German and French taking quotations from the earlier POSTAL mailings . VG+. Reference: Lucy Lippard The Dematerialisation of the Art Object Pgs 177 and 225/226. The price is for all 7 numbers as a group.

£1,450.00

INTRODUCTION PIECES POSTAL 2. 1970

London/New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and introducing them to other complete strangers. One b/w self portrait and tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works. VG+.

£325.00

SCRAP BOOK WITH ORIGINAL SMALL PAINTINGS & DRAWINGS. c. 1970 (?)

London (?): s.p., n.d. (c. 1969) 25.5 x 20cm commercial note book ("College Notebook") content of c. 100pp of blank lined pages to which Collins has attached small abstract paintings, or inserted folded and unfolded sheets of paintings along with hand-written texts. A mix of scrapbook and sketch book, the works are in the main abstract gouaches. Unique. Covers are slightly grubby and the book appears chaotic with oversize pages on browned paper inserted and oversize to the pages causing some edge damage but it is as Collins kept it.

£495.00

DELEGATION PROPOSAL 1. POSTAL 3. 1970

London/New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and photographing the meeting. One b/w portrait of one such meeting and tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing.

£295.00

INTERIM TRAVEL PROPOSAL 1 POSTAL 4. 1970

London/New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and photographing the meeting in London, Paris and New York. Tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing.

£295.00

’SET” PIECE 3 POSTAL 5. 1970

New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Texts in English, German and French explaining Collins’ interest in works where the artist introduces himself to complete strangers and asks them to write a message to him. Tear off slips allowing the recipient to order photocopy reproductions of the works . VG+ although folded for mailing and there is a mailing address slip glued on but deliberately with a second label over the top. Collins had moved to the USA by this point and this was the first POSTAL sent out from NYC.

£295.00

ORIGINAL PASTEUP FOR SEMIOTIC ASPECTS (POSTAL NR 6). 1971.

London: s.p. (Collins), 1971 Three sheets of backing paper (each 30 x 21cm, 1pp) with tipped on text panels. The original paper pasteup for Collins' important conceptual art publication - Postal Nr 6. Some marks and the glue is starting to peel in areas else VG. Unique.

£125.00

SEMIOTIC ASPECTS POSTAL 6. 1971

New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 30 x 21cm, 4pp. Text in English discussing the role of messages in semiotics . VG+ although folded for mailing.

£295.00

CONTEXTS POSTAL 7. 1971

New York: s.p. (Collins), 1970/ A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 21 x 15cm, 8pp. Stapled. Texts in English, German and French taking quotations from “Semiotic Aspects” where the artist considers the role of messages in semiotics. VG+ although one slight dog ear bottom right on the first two pages.

£295.00

CONTEXTS 2 POSTAL 8. 1971.

New York: s.p. (Collins), 1971 A single number from the mail art series POSTAL issued by Collins as part of the artist’s photographic and conceptual art practice. 21 x 15cm, 8pp. Stapled. Texts in English, German and French taking quotations from the earlier POSTAL mailings. VG+.

£295.00

REVISION AND PRESCRIPTION. 1971.

NYC: s.p. (Collins),  1971 21 x 14cm, 18pp (self cover) First edition of this essay considering criticisms of his artistic practice and his use of semiotic theory to create conceptual works. The author considered this a reposte to his opponents. A very small limitation and very good condition. This book was, later, discussed in part by Mike Baldwin in an internal A&L discussion document which we also have for sale.

£350.00

TECHNICOLOUR SUPER 8 INSTANT FILMLOOP PLAYER. c. 1965. OWNED BY COLLINS.

N.p.: Technicolour, 1965 33 x 23 x 11cm vintage 520 Super 8 instant filmloop player.  This was Collins' own player that uses "Magi-Cartridge" - a smaller (but incompatible) version of Technicolor’s later Sound Movie Cartridge and could hold c. 50 foot of Kodachrome Super 8 film.  It had no facility to play sound. A number of films by Collins in the collection are found already loaded into these plastic cassettes for playing. The original cable for this player is still attached with an American style 3 pin plug. It appears to still work. For sale with the entire archive of films as it would be needed to play some of the content.

NARRATIVE ART. 1974?

NYC: John Gibson, n.d. (1974?) 10.5 x 15cm, 2pp. Announcement card  for a portfolio of 6 offset lithographic works by Askevold, Beckley, Cumming, Hutchison, Le Gac, Welsh and Collins. Typographic design only.  The portfolio had a text by James Collins. VG+.

£65.00

A COLLECTION OF 104 ENVELOPES CONTAINING LARGE FORMAT ORIGINAL NEGATIVES. c. 1975 – 1988.

A collection of 104 26 x 11cm, printed envelopes (mostly Berkley K+L Custom Services although there are a small number of airmail envelopes and "Flash Art" printed envelopes) containing on average  3- 5 original double negative photographic prints (Kodak Safety Film). These are the negatives for the majority of Collins' large scale photographic works (often taken from individual frames of his Super 8 movies). Titles are written on some of the envelopes (eg "Watching Yvette") and others have technical specifications  or financial notes on them. We have not individually inspected every envelope's contents but on average in the ones that we have there are 6 - 10 images. All VG+. Collins' most important archive of material other than the actual works and the Super 8 films.,

£1,450.00

PORTRAIT OF JAMES COLLINS. c 1975.

Firenze: Carlo Cantini, n.d. (c. 1977) 20 x 16cm, silver gelatine b/w photograph of James Collins  wearing a hat. This image was used for an announcement card for the artist and in catalogues. VG.

£40.00