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Creating Meaning Together: A Selection of Collaborative Artists’ Books

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“Creating Meaning Together” Collaborative Artists’ Books Exhibition

—This post was contributed by Rita Sausmikat and Maya Riser-Kositsky, interns at the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery (AA/PG) Library summer 2014.

An “artist’s book” can generally be defined as a work of art in book form, though this guideline is interpreted and finessed to fit the artist’s vision. Commonly, artists’ books are portable and interactive, and utilize a plethora of methods, technologies, and materials. Just as with artwork, artists’ books often tell a story, stir emotion, or convey a purpose.
As part of our internships here at the AA/PG Library, we created an exhibit for the display cases in the reading room focusing on artists’ books.The exhibit showcases artists’ books created by multiple artists, which can feature individual elements from each artist or can present a cohesive product from the entire group. Regardless of the creative process, each collaborative work focuses on a single theme or purpose shared by all the artists. The combined effort allows the meaning to be examined from different angles and viewpoints.


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“Obama’s To Do List” in center of “Creating Meaning Together” Collaborative Artists’ Books display


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“Creating Meaning Together” Collaborative Artists’ Books Exhibition

This display of collaborative art was prompted by President Obama’s To Do List, an artist’s book created by eight students from Co-op City, Bronx, NY. As part of the 2009 Scholarship Incentive Awards Program, each student researched and wrote letters to the President on major issues facing the country, such as war, the economy, and health care. The book consists of illustrations by these authors, their letters, and graphics related to their topic, and was designed in collaboration with a book artist.

When creating the exhibit, we looked through the library’s collection of artists’ books for collaborative works with intriguing visuals. Choosing books for display rather than personal perusal proved a bit of a challenge. In a few instances, the full experience of the book couldn’t be realized in a display case because some of the books were too fragile or others couldn’t stand upright. Many artists’ books are intended by their artists to be interactive, which is impossible under glass and we had to select a single page spread to represent numerous artists’ contributions.

The works we have chosen, however, display the variety of mediums and styles represented in artists’ books, from firework-destroyed paper to sewn collages to poetry. While each work is distinct, all of these artists have created meaning and purpose through collaborative art.

Creating Meaning install_Rita and Maya
Maya and Rita setting up the exhibition cases.

After selecting the books to display, we then researched the individual works and their creators and wrote short identifying blurbs for each. Installing the exhibit was more of a challenge than we originally envisioned: setting up the pieces was easy, but reassembling the museum display cases was a battle. But in the end we are proud of how it turned out.

Stop by the AA/PG Library through September to see our hard work and get a taste of the beautiful and thought-provoking range of artists’ books in the Smithsonian Libraries Artists’ Books  collection!



—This post was contributed by Rita Sausmikat and Maya Riser-Kositsky, interns at the Smithsonian AA/PG Library summer 2014.

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