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Author: Alexandra Reigle

Featuring Artists’ Books in a Museum’s Collection

Mungo Thomson
Negative Space. Ringier, Zurich: 2007.

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 work, show similar themes, and can even be shown in galleries as autonomous works of art.

Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn

patron reading book
A Hirshhorn patron perusing our Zodiac Head’s catalog

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads has been a popular attraction at the Hirshhorn since its arrival in April. Surrounding the fountain in the center of the Hirshhorn, the zodiac heads have an interactive appeal as viewers pose for pictures in front of their zodiac animal. Much like Western astrological signs, the Chinese zodiac signs also have specific characteristics and traits assigned to them – both good and bad.  A person’s zodiac symbol was (and is) culturally significant in many parts of Asia, where a person’s zodiac sign is sometimes seriously considered when entering a relationship.

This cultural significance is something that Ai Weiwei likes to utilize in many of his works to communicate his messages, often indicated by referencing objects that are almost synonymous with Chinese traditions and values.