The Köchel Series
4 September to 11 October 2014
In one regard, Arnaud Maggs’ Köchel Series represents a minor detour in the late artist’s primarily photographic practice. Comprised of a single annotation printed in black ink on white paper, each of these letterpressed engravings are palpably more austere than his unadorned photographs of singular subjects. But the Köchel Series does not sit far from Maggs’ major conceptual concerns. In prior works and those that followed, the artist focused his camera squarely on records that somehow transcended their plain appearances to describe a life or lives once lived: invoices documenting purchases made by an aristocratic couple in Lyon in the late 19th century (Les factures de Lupé [1999-2001]); paper tags used to record children’s labour in textile mills during the same period (Travail des enfants dans l’industrie ); or full page spreads of Eugène Atget’s annotated address book (Répertoire ). His earlier portraits of human subjects, such as 64 Portrait Studies (1976-78) to 48 Views (1981-82), presented both unknown and renowned figures not as records of physiognomic variety (albeit a 19th century practice) but rather as aestheticized iterations of human life. And finally, in his last body of work, After Nadar (2012), completed prior to his death later that same year, Maggs plays the French mime Pierrot, pantomiming the various “roles” that comprise the real artist’s true self: the photographer, the collector, the archivist, a man in love.
Maggs was already an artist well before he officially declared it in his forties—he was established as a fashion photographer and graphic designer. Those foundational skills are evident in his work, from the gridded presentations of his photographs, to his undeterred search for beauty in the mundane, to his interest in type. (Maggs’ Hotel series (1988), the results of his treasure hunt through Paris’ various arrondissements to photograph that city’s surprisingly ubiquitous hotel signage, is equally a taxonomy of types as well as a study of type[faces].)
The Köchel Series is just that: type. Each print depicts a single annotation from the Köchel-Verzeichnis, a complete catalogue of all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s works produced over his thirty-year career in chronological order. Ludwig von Köchel, a 19th century Austrian musicologist, published the monograph in 1862, and his system of annotation—a capital letter K, followed by a number—has remained a “helpful shorthand” in referring to individual works in Mozart’s vast output. Too, the Köchel-Verzeichnis can be construed as an abstract biography of Mozart, an index of the composer’s development as an artist from life to death. For example, K. 1a is a short piece for harpsichord Mozart composed when he was 5 years old, and K. 626 is the Requiem he was working on just prior to his death in 1791 at the age of 35.
For the Köchel Series, Maggs culls related works from the index and presents them together as like types. Thus, Eighteen Piano Sonatas (for Ed Cleary), begins sequentially from 279, to 280, to 281, then skips up to 309, 310, and 311, before ending at 576. In these prints (which, deliberately or not, approximate the proportions of LP covers), Maggs’ bracketing revitalizes Köchel’s system by isolating those concurrent themes or ideas that Mozart kept returning to over his lifetime. (And here, too, a dedication: Ed Cleary was the revered Toronto type designer who helped design and print the series. Unrelatedly, Cleary died unexpectedly just a few years after his work with Maggs; he was 43.) The rich authority of Maggs’ pointed and posthumous retrieval emerges through its demonstration of the complexity of Mozart’s mind, and by that same token, the multiple “roles” that any artist may ascribe to.