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Author: Anne Evenhaugen

Mysteries in the Library

Bolton's Whistler notebook

–This post was contributed by Allison Brice, American Art and Portrait Gallery Library intern.

I often joke with those who ask me about my academic studies that I am getting a degree in ‘old stuff’. With a major in history and two minors in art history and medieval studies, I must admit that I find anything from the last half-century rather boring. So when my supervisor at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library told me to go down into the rare books section and find some ‘old stuff’ to put up for our Adopt-a-Book project…well, I was in heaven.

Artists’ Books at AA/PG: Kara Walker’s Pop-up

Kara Walker Freedom: A Fable
Kara Walker Freedom: A Fable

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.”

Can I douse you in salad dressing? Ed Ruscha’s Artists’ Books

Artists’ Books by Ed Ruscha, at the AA/PG Library

“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.

What is an artist’s book?

“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!