Recently the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG Library) hosted a tour in conjunction with the 12th Biennial Book Arts Fair and Conference presented by the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. The Pyramid Atlantic Art Center is a non-profit contemporary art center dedicated to the creation and appreciation of hand papermaking, printmaking, digital arts, and the art of the book. The fair provides a program of speakers, demonstrations, and special exhibitions and showcases innovative book art, limited edition prints, and fine papers. The Smithsonian Libraries was one of five organizations including the Library of Congress and the National Archives asked to host a tour to discuss artists’ books and examples from the Libraries’ collections. The Hirshhorn Museum Library, the National Museum of African Art Library, and the AA/PG Library all were happy to share items from their collections for the visitors.
The group started by looking at works from the Library for the National Museum of African Art. Visitors especially enjoyed Bessie Smith Moulton’s Tunisia which uses images and memories from the artist’s trip to Tunisia. The book is bound in leather with a flap to protect the book, like traditional Arabic books. Another favorite was Willow Legge’s An African Folktale which uses beautiful screen prints interspersed with blind impressions illustrating creatures of the sea and sky. The group then transitioned to items from the Hirshhorn library collection. They especially admired the paper engineering featured in Damien Hirst’s I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now and wondered about the issues of preservation presented by a book that used duct tape on its cover, as is the case with American Bricolage by Tom Sachs and Wim Delvoye. Anne Evenhaugen, reference librarian for the AA/PG library, started the discussion by looking at some earlier, mass-produced artists’ books from the late sixties and seventies, focusing especially on the work of Ed Ruscha, which Anne investigated in an earlier blog post.
Works by Sol LeWitt and Michael Snow also initiated discussions of how an artist can use a book for self-representation and expression. Doug Litts, AA/PG branch librarian, presented more fine press and unique items in the AA/PG artists’ book collection, many of which have been featured in this blog, including Kurt Allerslev’s Hypotenuse (a2 + b2 = c2), works by Laura Davidson, and Mark Wagner’s Smoke in My Dreams. The group also examined new additions to the library’s collection, including those from Sara Press and C & C Press. The group finished with the newest addition to the collection, Alisa Banks’s Storm Sequence which pushes the boundaries of what may be considered a “book.” Banks based her book on homemade shrines she saw in her relatives’ homes in Louisiana.
The “sequence” in the title refers to the “ritual” Banks’ aunt performed whenever bad weather was approaching. The “blinds” inside detail the sequence/ritual, and the years on the inside of the doors are those that saw significant damage caused by storms. The Smithsonian Libraries appreciated having the opportunity to share some of its collection with attendees of the book arts fair. Objects from the artists’ book collections can be viewed by appointment by contacting the appropriate branch library.