Jasper Johns, Das Graphische werk 1960–1970 belongs to the legacy of the Städtisches Museum Mönchengladbach’s boxed catalogs. The Museum’s now-famous catalog format––inexpensive boxes filled with checklists, essays, and small paraphernalia––was inaugurated in 1967 with the first public retrospective of work by German performance artist and Fluxus theorist Joseph Beuys. The museum did not have the finances to produce a traditionally bound catalog and Beuys suggested that instead the exhibition be represented by a simple box, distributed as a multiple, containing a list of the exhibition, two folded cards, and a small felt sheet stamped with his name and a red cross. The Beuys boxed catalogue, distributed in an edition of 330 copies, was so well-received that it would be used as a model for an additional 33 exhibitions featuring, among others, Marcel Broodthaers, Richard Long, and Lawrence Weiner.
Jasper Johns, Das Graphische werk, is also known as Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a. Three sheets of rolled paper contain an introduction to the exhibition by museum director Johannes Cladder; a short essay on Gertrude Stein’s poem, which gave the box its title and inspired the plastic flower nestled in the box; and a German translation of a poem written by Johns. Alongside these are niched an advertisement for Johns’ “lightbulb” works and a checklist of the 131 artworks in the exhibition. The museum catalog as artist’s book multiple is the marker of Mönchengladbach’s unique contribution to the history of this genre. With its origins in the readymade, the multiple––one of many identical copies each considered an original––challenged the standards of museum publishing, suggesting that a catalog might simultaneously exist as a work of art and as a mass-produced object.