The American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery (AA/PG) Library has close to two hundred artists’ books in its collection, many of which have been featured here in past blog posts. However, this collection continues to grow and new books are selectively added. Many come through donations, but others are purchased to support the collection’s theme of “American Lives, American Stories.” Most of the works in the artists’ book collection feature American book artists and have biographical elements or touch upon the American experience.
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?”).
On Friday, September 28th, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Head Librarian Anna Brooke gave a presentation at the NY Art Book Fair’s Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference on how artists’ books can be used in conjunction with a museum’s collection to provide greater insight into an artist’s body of work. Work studies student Lauren Zook, currently enrolled in the George Mason – Smithsonian collaborative masters program for decorative arts, aided in developing the presentation and has written a summary of it for our blog. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library has acquired an unusual type of book—the artist’s book. Some of these books are mass publications and others are unique and vary in size and shape. A new initiative has been made by the Smithsonian Libraries to make these artists’ books more accessible to the public and protect them from damage. Most of the artists’ books at the Hirshhorn Library were produced by artists represented in the museum’s collection. These artists’ books can provide new insight to an artist’s more »
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.
Anything that comes into being by way of human creativity and artistic expression often includes imperfections. Sometimes the flaws are so subtle that they go unnoticed by everyone but the perfectionistic artist laboring over their creation. The process of making art, especially artists’ books, requires a great deal of emphasis on attention to detail (if you ask almost any book artist); there are many opportunities for mistakes along the way. Slurring at Bottom: A Printer’s Book of Errors (2001), was conceived by book artist and publisher Robin Price.
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.”