American Collections blog

10 posts categorized "Artists' Books"

22 October 2009

What you won't be reading on your Kindle

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I’ve been having a lot of fun this week finding books to ‘challenge’ our conservation team. In collaboration with The Preservation Advisory Centre, they are surveying some of our artists’ and fine press books to look at issues around the conservation of modern materials.

Whilst the debate on the future of the printed book goes on, there is a diverse and growing community of artists, printers, small and fine presses which continues to produce books which really wouldn’t work as e-books because they are not just about content. Many of the fine press printers use traditional methods and printing techniques to produce beautifully crafted books. Others find new processes – and new materials, to employ in their work, as they seek to push the boundaries of the codex to its limits. Artists move between different media with ease, and still find the book a suitable format for their work.

Many of the fine press books present relatively few problems from the conservation point of view. The high quality materials used in their production are designed to last and often, only a protective box or flapcase is needed. But these are also books that are meant to be handled, not just viewed in exhibition cases, so the main concern is usually around people taking care when they look at them, particularly if there are pop-ups, or various types of inserts which could be damaged by careless handling.

Artists' books, on the other hand, are a good starting point for challenging your conservators. For example, Andy Warhol’s Index Book, includes great pop-ups (e.g. a little plane and a soup can), but there is also a balloon, which has now part perished and is stuck fast between 2 pages, slowly degrading. Klaus Scherübel’s Mallarmé: The Book, is made of styrofoam. Richard Long’s Papers of River Muds is a book of hand-made sheets of papers that contain mud from various rivers around the world.

We also have Artists & Photographs, which isn’t a book at all. Effectively, it’s an exhibition in a box, consisting of a combination of texts, images, and multiples by numerous American artists from the 1960s. Most of the contents are paper-based, but it also includes Rauschenberg’s multiple Revolver, made of plexiglass discs, and Tom Gormley’s Red File Cabinet (with lightbulb), which, yes, does contain a little lightbulb.


I’ve also come up with a lot of metal for the survey, including Donald Glaister’s Brooklyn Bridge: a love song, in which the pages are made of sanded aluminium. When we acquired it, it was the first almost completely metal book that I had seen (apart from Anselm Kiefer’s, which you will find in art galleries rather than libraries). But earlier this year, with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Library was able to acquire Marinetti's metal Futurist book Parole in Libertá. Marinetti and Tullio D'Albisola produced it back in 1932, and fortunately, it seems to be surviving well.

For some general information on the Library’s collecting of fine press and artists’ books, see these pages

And finally, a reminder that the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair is almost upon us.


16 October 2009

I think I'll....maybe, no, wait a minute

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Rushcha_new Reading the Metro on the way to work the other day, I was surprised to find a piece on the American artist Ed Ruscha. Being a fan, I was pleased to discover that Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting has just opened at the Hayward.

I was reminded of a small exhibition that I worked on some years ago 'From Laycock Abbey to the Sunset Strip,' which juxtaposed William Henry Fox Talbot's The Pencil of Nature with some of Ruscha's little photobooks from the 1960s (it had seemed a good idea at the time). The exhibition included two of my favourites - Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), an accordion-fold book which, when fully opened, measures 27 feet and shows, well, an image of every building on the Sunset Strip, and Royal Road Test (1967), in which a series of photographs document the fate of a typewriter thrown on to Highway 91 from a speeding 1963 Buick.

Ruscha didn't want to make expensive limited edition books but high quality mass produced objects - 'I could print a hundred books each and sell them at $50 apiece as great works of art. But I don't want to do that. I want to get the price down, so everyone can afford one. I want to be the Henry Ford of book making.'

A lot has happened since then. For a start, the Library has now acquired the Fox Talbot archive, which contains many wonderful things, including a beautiful copy of The Pencil of Nature (look out for it in our forthcoming exhibition Points of View). And it's just as well that we acquired those photobooks when we did since they have become very collectable indeed, with prices that would make your jaw drop. I wonder what Ruscha thinks about it all.

The papers have also been full of the changes that the Obamas have made to the artwork in their living quarters and offices in the White House. I was amused to read that the President 's selection included Ruscha's text painting on indecision I Think I'll. Our Americas office, on the other hand, has a little reproduction of Ruscha's lithograph OK. 

[C. H.]