R.B. Kitaj

What is Comparison?


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
R.B. Kitaj 1932–2007
Screenprint on paper
Image: 788 × 562 mm
Purchased 1970

Catalogue entry

R B Kitaj b. 1932
P07045 [from] MAHLER BECOMES POLITICS, BEISBOL 1964–7 [P07045-P07059]
Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1970.

(i) What is a Comparison? 1964
Inscribed ‘Kitaj’, b.r., and ‘30/70’, b.l.

31×22¼ (78.5×56).

The fifteen screenprints which comprise Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol are contained in a portfolio. In addition to the fifteen prints, the portfolio contains three further items:

a. a book, Mahler by Jonathan Williams. 44 pages long and published in 1966, it is a book of poems which are, in the author's words, ‘exercises in spontaneous composition to the movements of all the Mahler symphonies’. Each poem refers to a particular symphony. Reproduced on the cover of the book is a drawing of Jonathan Williams by R B Kitaj.

b. a sheet of coloured patterned paper measuring 30¼×20½ (77×52) onto which is stuck a photograph of R B Kitaj and Jonathan Williams, taken at Biggar, Lanarkshire, during a visit to Hugh McDiarmid in 1965.

c. a further sheet of paper 30¼×20½ (77×52), in a different coloured pattern, to which are stuck four printed sheets, each of a different size, one in each corner. They read as follows:

Top left: The title of the series.
Top right: 'A run of 15 screen prints by R. B. Kitaj 1964/67.

  'Each print is in an edition of 70, numbered and signed.

'The first 30 sets are in a portfolio together with the book of poems by Jonathan Williams, first published here in an edition of 30, numbered and signed by the author.

'Screen prints printed by Kelpra Studios on various papers.

  'The case has been made by F & J Randall, London.

‘The edition has been published by Marlborough Fine Art Ltd London 1967.’

Bottom left: 'The title of the frontispiece photograph [see (b) above].
‘Americans Abroad; Biggar, Lanarkshire 1965’ and the title of each of the screen prints.

Bottom right: ‘Bob Creeley said it would have been better if Jonathan had done Charles Ives—better for me that is...’

The artist told the compiler (conversation, 1 July 1970) that the initial impulse to make this series of prints came from his friendship with Jonathan Williams and from Williams's Mahler poems.

By the time he had been working on the series for two years, and had still not completed it, Kitaj became bored with Mahler and with the convention of having to finish a series of prints in the same spirit in which it had been begun. The title of the series, deliberately echoing a title such as Mourning becomes Electra indicates, by referring to factors which are polar in their contrast, the range of involvement and association which became part of the originally simple concept.

‘Beisbol’ is a phonetic rendering of the pronunciation south of the United States border of ‘baseball’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1968-70, London 1970

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