If Marshall McLuhan were a gypsy and his teacup the art world, the tea leaves would be artists’ books. —Ingrid Sishey (National Arts Guide, vol. 1, no.1, Jan-Feb. 1979, p.2-3)
This quote resonates so well with me as it points to the role artists’ books have both as messengers of information and works of art in themselves. From mass produced, or open editions to limited editions to unique bookworks – artists’ books underscore McLuhan’s ideas about the medium as the message. Artists’ books constitute a highly varied contemporary art form which can be described as artworks which exist within the structure of books. Usually these are books utilizing a sequence of pages to produce a stream of imagery – textual and/or visual. They employ a full range of forms utilizing unusual paper, typographic design and bindings.
Artists’ books are a vibrant part of the Brooklyn Museum Library Special Collections. The Museum Library started to actively collect artists’ books in the 1970’s and now there are approximately 2,000 titles with a collecting emphasis on multiples. In an effort not to duplicate what other art libraries are collecting in the New York area, we have developed a collection policy that focuses on:
We try to present the artists’ books collection to the public either through display in exhibitions or through on-site visits and artist’s talks. This past Saturday we featured Angela Lorenz who is an American artist living in Bologna, Italy. Ms. Lorenz talked about her very innovative work entitled Pandora’s Book (1992). She creates mixed-media limited-edition artists’ books and uses them as a tool to convey cultural observations and historical research. As whimsical and humorous as some of her books are, each one is based on fact often derived directly from experts in architecture, anthropology, art history, textiles, and economics. This thought-provoking bookwork was recently donated to the Brooklyn Museum Library by Dorothy and Jerome Preston in honor of Dorothy Cochlin McCann (1899-1997), art historian and avid sewer.
Portions of this text are excerpted from an essay of mine published in the Artists’ Book Yearbook 2001-2002 (Impact Press, 2001). For copies of the essay or more information about artists’ books send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deirdre Lawrence has been the Principal Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum since late 1983. Before coming to the Brooklyn Museum, she was Associate Librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She received her M. L. S. from Pratt Institute in 1979 and has studied art history on the graduate level. At the Brooklyn Museum she has established the Museum Archives and implemented many projects to preserve and make accessible the research collections. Deirdre has overseen a major renovation project, implementation of an online catalog and several collaborative projects with other libraries. She has written articles on the collections and lectured frequently on the research collections held in the Libraries and Archives as well as Brooklyn Museum history. Deirdre has curated several exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere. She is a visiting professor at Pratt’s School of Information and Library Science and serves as a board member at the Center for Book Arts in New York.