Steven Leiber, 1957-2012


Steven Leiber, 54, art dealer and collector, died Jan. 28 in San Francisco after a year-long battle with cancer. Leiber occupied a niche, specializing in contemporary artist’s books, reference material and ephemera-announcements, flyers, posters-as well as multiples and works on paper.

Often noted for his wit and formidable knowledge, Leiber had a particular interest in Fluxus and conceptual art. In a 2010 interview with Bad at Sports, he described his early attraction to ephemera, when in the ’80s he bought “twenty-one boxes of crap” from artist Jeff Berner. Sifting through it for over a year, he said, “It became clear to me that what was most exciting was not the most obvious material, not the things that I actually went to buy, which was primarily the Fluxus material; it was the other things. For Fluxus events or festivals, there wasn’t necessarily a thing that would have come out of the exhibition. You didn’t buy a painting; you showed up, saw what went on, and in time, what becomes the collectable aspect of it is the flyer, the poster, the relic, the printed material that was generated from these events.”

Leiber received a degree in comparative literature from UC Berkeley in 1979 and a law degree from Golden Gate University in 1982. While in law school, he worked as the director of San Francisco’s Simon Lowinsky Gallery. Soon after graduating, he opened his own gallery downtown and, in 1987, moved it into his grandmother’s basement, dubbing it Steven Leiber Basement, a name that stuck.

He became an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts in 2000, where, in 2001, he curated the exhibition “Extra Art: A Survey of Artists’ Ephemera from 1960-99” for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. The show, featuring some 500 objects, traveled to the London ICA. Leiber was often asked to appraise archives, including those of General Idea, Claes Oldenburg, Allan Kaprow and Avalanche magazine.

Since 1992, he produced over 40 sales catalogues, each taking a unique form, from a baseball card pack with bubble gum to a series of postcards sent daily over the course of a month. Themselves considered collectibles, the catalogues have been acquired by museum and universities. A selection is currently on view at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In 2008, with San Francisco collector Robin Wright, Leiber founded RITE Editions, which has so far published editions by Jonathan Monk, Andrew Witrack and Mungo Thomson.

David Leiber, Steven’s brother and director of Sperone Westwater Gallery, said it is too soon to know what will become of his archives and collection.