Off the Books
September 22 - November 11, 2006
Off the Books was an experiment in the divergent paths creativity takes. After one of Oklahoma City’s oldest architectural firms closed its doors, [Artspace] at Untitled obtained a collection of abandoned accounting ledgers. It then distributed these books to an assortment of artists varying in experience, age, and medium. The resulting work demonstrated the variety of interpretations and ideas that a single source will inspire. The exhibit aimed to give viewers an insight into the artist’s process of reinvention, turning a shared starting point into a unique object of personal expression. Through this experience, the artists' final product can be better understood in the ways it differs from and similar to his or her peers.
The ledgers featured in this exhibition are the remaining relics from a once prestigious architectural firm formerly based in Oklahoma, Hudgins Thompson and Ball, or HTB. The firm of HTB was an enormous success with offices in many cities throughout the United States. With overflowing coffers and national clientele, it was only a matter of time before the company’s less than flawless business practices were brought to the attention of the public. In 1994, there were many convoluted stories surrounding HTB. Most notorious was a scandal involving the Oklahoma County Jail Facility. Once the firm was branded with a tarnished reputation, business quickly declined, and accounts were on the verge of bankruptcy. Dewberry & Davis, a 50 year old engineering and architectural firm headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, purchased the entire HTB firm. The ledgers featured in this exhibition are the only surviving relics of the once powerful HTB firm. Each ledger serves as a distinct archive of the company’s past, documenting financial gains, losses and ultimately, demise. Now, like photographed memories, the purpose of the ledgers has changed. The pages and bindings of these books record a different history as individual works of art.
In 1996, Laura Warriner acquired the ledger books from Dewberry & Davis knowing they would someday make a wonderful subject for an exhibition. It would be several years later that this idea came to complete fruition. In a time when the business practices of many of the nations largest corporations are under intense scrutiny, Off The Books is at a pinnacle of relevance. Last year, the staff at Untitled [ArtSpace] approached a group of 20 artists, presented them each with a ledger, and asked them to create a piece of artwork with only one stipulation. Each artist must use a ledger book in some form in their piece. The only real limitation was each artist’s personal set of rules and experience imposed on the project. The artists selected for Off The Books range in age, artistic style, medium and artistic focus. The final outcome is an exhibition binding complexity and variety.
For many of the participating artists, the ledgers were simply a material to use in the process of making their art. For others, the gridlines of the charting paper and the financial totals provided structure for their creations. Other artists used the history of HTB as the subject of their piece. And still many artists created installations that embodied their personal abstracted idea of a ledger itself. The final outcome is an exhibit of visual contextualization encouraging the viewer to read between the lines.