An Esoteric Publisher Pops Up at MoMA’s Flagship Museum Store

With a catalogue full of titles blurring the line between art and literature, Siglio is subverting traditional categories by which books are commodified and consumed.

“Our mission has really been to advocate for artists and writers whose work is uncategorizable and lives in the space between art and literature,” says Lisa Pearson, founder of the independent publisher Siglio. “What differentiates us from other art book publishers is that my books are the works themselves. They are not documentation or monographs or catalogue.”

Based in New York’s Hudson River Valley, Pearson has been a one-woman show since she launched the company in 2008 out of Los Angeles. (She fled east in search of lighter traffic, cleaner water, and distance from earthquake hot zones in 2011.) From the command post of her backyard barn, Pearson’s catalogue of mixed-media titles is notable for its bold eclecticism. That’s no accident. Out of the 150 or so submissions she receives each year, three to five usually end up making the cut. The best way to pique her interest? Send her something she doesn’t understand. “It has to be incredibly intriguing and elusive in some way, not like anything else I’ve seen before,” she says. “If I can think of other presses where the work would live well, then it’s not a Siglio book.”

The constellation, as she refers to it, of Siglio’s books is disparate yet share common characteristics; feminist in ethos, fusing visual and literary together in unusual ways. “I think about the way the books build on each other and how the hybridity of image and text is enlivened by artists and writers,” she says. Rendering the invisible visible and making space for voices that are often marginalized are guiding principles that inform Pearson’s mission. She spends a lot of time scouting for Siglio’s next release on the periphery, searching for image-text works that create new possibilities for narrative. “My job is to take the work out on the margins and make them visible so that audiences also learn how to engage them because they’re being asked to read these works in a very different way than a traditional work of nonfiction,” Pearson says.

Now the public can view Siglio’s full backlist, as well as Pearson’s curated selections from other independent publishers, at MoMA’s Museum Store through the end of December. The selection will change to various themes during the pop-up, including Stories/Investigations, Ruptures/Revisions, and Poem/Book/Object.

Over the course of the Siglio’s activation at the flagship Museum Store, Pearson will debut The Improbable, inspired by Dick Higgins’s radical, tabloid-format Something Else Newsletter that explored the world of intermedia in the 60’s. It will channel the same spirit with essays, travelogues, ruminations, and more from an impressive roster of artists, poets, and writers.  

Asked if she’s feeling dispirited by the unfolding events around COVID-19, Pearson recalls launching Siglio at the dawn of the 2008 recession when there was almost a fever dream panic in publishing about e-books and digital platforms. The death knell for print would ring loudly for years as the corporate world scrambled to pivot to digital. At the same time, it laid the groundwork for subterranean, independent creative activity that cultivated an era of experimentation with printed matter. “It felt like there were possibilities here when you really pay attention to the material realization of the book as an object in relationship to what it wants to do, and what it’s saying, and how it engages the reader,” she says. 

Visit MoMA’s flagship Museum Store, in The Museum of Modern Art, to shop Siglio and an expanded assortment of books. Museum tickets are not required to enter the store. 

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