Americas and Oceania Collections blog

22 October 2009

What you won't be reading on your Kindle

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.



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