When wealthy real estate developer William Elmer Harmon founded the Harmon Foundation in 1922, it originally supported causes as varied as playgrounds, biblical films and nursing programs. But it is better known today as one of the first major supporters of African American creativity and ingenuity.
Though American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) worked in every media, he is known best for his wall drawings and series of investigations of lines, colors and shapes. If you have ever been to an exhibition of LeWitt’s wall drawings, you’ll agree there is a sense of awe (“How could someone draw so many tiny straight lines across that entire gallery?”) mixed with a sense of vertigo (“How could someone draw so many tiny straight lines across that entire gallery?”).
Ida Applebroog’s artists’ books have a way of making you feel slightly uncomfortable without really knowing why. At least that is the effect her small books have on me. My first encounter with them had me feeling generally uncertain, thinking not only “What are these things?” but also “Why are these things?” Even after reading several of her books, I still did not understand exactly what her images represented. I had to read about Applebroog’s books to better understand.
Many of the artists’ books in the Smithsonian American Art & Portrait Gallery Library’s collection tell stories—from personal struggles with addiction, to pictorial descriptions of how to create a human salad, to universal stories of historical conflicts, such as Kara Walker’s book “Freedom: A Fable.”
“If there is any facet of my work that I feel was kissed by angels, I’d say it was my books. My other work is definitely tied to a tradition, but I’ve never followed tradition in my books.” Ed Ruscha, in an interview with David Bourdon in Art News, April 1972. In this series on artists’ books at the AA/PG Library, we are starting off with Ed Ruscha, the American artist known primarily for his large canvas paintings that incorporate words or phrases.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some are to be chewed and digested.” ~Francis Bacon, Essays (1625) Bacon’s Essays By Francis Bacon, Richard Whately. We have talked about artists’ books on the Smithsonian Libraries blog before. And we’ll talk about them more, as a part of a short series to highlight interesting works of book art owned by the Smithsonian’s American Art & Portrait Gallery Library. But what, exactly, is an artist’s book? You may not be able to tell just from looking at the object itself!
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