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Because artists’ books can be expensive to buy and to keep, institutions need to have a clearly articulated rationale for collecting them. This could range from documenting the history of art, and contemporary art in particular, to a survey of how artists have used the book format to explore their ideas. This latter approach would support the use of artists’ books in practical workshops leading to the creation of yet further artists’ books.
Artists’ books have been collected at the Fleet Library at Rhode Island School of Design for over 40 years. They include early multiples, conceptual books, fine press books, livres d’artistes, unique books, limited edition handmade books, books as sculptural objects, artists’ archives and ephemera. With between three and eight classes and individual appointments each week, artists’ books have become important teaching tools, fostering creativity among students, faculty and outside researchers. How do they speak to the creative process on so many levels? What is it that makes these resources so compelling?
This article describes some of the research projects investigating contemporary artists’ books at the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England in Bristol. As part of its remit, the Centre explores and promotes many aspects of the book arts including contemporary creative processes and outputs. Some recent projects include the Arcadia id est touring exhibition of 118 artists’ books on the themes ornature and the landscape; Bookmarks: infiltrating the library system; and the Regenerator altered books project. The Centre also works with artists, academics, curators, institutions, galleries and bookshops to promote the book arts to a wider community. In addition it publishes reference information, guides and critical essays on artists’ books through its Impact Press imprint; these include the Artists book yearbook and The blue notebook, a journal for artists’ books.
The Centre des livres d’artistes (cdla), which has been based in S aint-Yrieix-la-Perche since 1994, is the culmination of a project initiated at the end of the 1980s by the association Pays-paysage. After many years during which it lacked anywhere to develop its activities fully, the cdla has at last been installed in a refurbished building and opened early in 2005 with a new exhibition of books and publications by herman de vries. The two principal activities of the cdla are the creation and management of a collection of artists’ books (currently nearly 3000 items), and the organisation of exhibitions in France and also abroad.
The National Art Library’s collection of artists’ books is described here by one of the librarians, who is herself trained as a book artist, having completed an MA in Book Arts at Camberwell College of Art. She has built upon this knowledge through working with the large numbers of artists’ books at the NAL and begins this article by discussing the terminology relating to the book arts, going on to talk about the history of the NAL’s collection and touching on its future. She finishes by highlighting a few very distinctive items available for consultation.
The collection of artists’ books at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in the Centre Georges Pompidou grew spontaneously at first, once the museum had been created, but since the end of the 1980s its growth has been much more deliberate. A formal acquisition policy has been introduced that ensures that gaps resulting from the early collecting history are filled; this also encourages the exploration of new directions in consultation with the Museum curators. Many activities are now undertaken to make the most of the holdings, such as exhibitions and seminars encouraging exploitation of the collection and ensuring continued analysis and debate.
This article describes the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, a unique archive of experimental art forms from the 1960s to the present, and how students and the general public make use of its welcoming access policies. It further addresses conservation efforts as they apply to a setting that strongly emphasizes hands-on usage of materials.