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Artists' books

Last Updated: 27-Feb-2015

This guide is designed to provide an introduction to the literature of artists' books and to present a selection of artists' book holdings in the Stanford University Libraries.

Subject Librarians

Senior Librarian, Art & Architecture Library
(650) 725-1038, (650) 561-2392


Relax (Zeitgeist) / [Anna Hellsgård, Christian Gfeller].

Use these bibliographies, subject headings, Web sites, and tips to begin your reseach in the history and development of the modern book arts. These topics are vast, and a single research guide will only scratch the surface. Particularly vexed is the distinction one can or cannot make between books (especially hand-bound and/or hand-printed ones) constructed as artistic objects (or containers of artistic objects, as in the livre d'artiste) and books that explore the form more conceptually, exploiting its qualities of seriality and mass production. Both types are treated here; for more on the latter type of artist’s book, see the primary sources listed in the Conceptual Art research guide. What is most important to consider in both cases is the artist's (or artists') primary role in a book's origination and development. Examples of and resources relating to artists' books and the book arts can be found in both the Art & Architecture and Green Libraries, particularly in Art Locked Stacks and Special Collections, respectively.

See a partial list of Stanford's artists' books in the Stanford Artists' Books Collection.

Relax (Zeitgeist) ©2009 Anna Hellsgård & Christian Gfeller

Introductory texts

New York : Distributed Art Publishers : American Federation of Arts, c1998.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .L37 1998
As with many other authors studying the genre, Lauf and Phillpot devote much of their discussion to developing a working definition of the term "artist's book." Their tactic is twofold: to explicate the concept by dividing it into categories (e.g., magazines, diaries, scores, documentation, and comic books), and to broaden the term's meaning by incorporating such materials as exhibition catalogs and edited works. The centerpiece of Artist/Author, however, is the photographic documentation of the works shown in the exhibition for which the book was produced. These images, often consisting of books laid out in juxtaposition, describe the authors' conception of the genre in ways that words cannot. [AMF]
New York : Granary Books, 1998.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .K55 1998
This book traces not the development of the artist's book itself, but of the critical discourse surrounding it. Kilma discusses various critics', librarians', and artists' treatment of issues small and large, from where the apostrophe in "artists' books" should reside (if anywhere), to the omnipresent question of how even to define the genre. What Kilma reveals is an evolving--and most certainly debated--understanding of what artists' books are; how they should be distributed, displayed, and stored; and why they are such a fertile, contested locus in the first place. The final section of the book contains an extensive bibliography ("List of Sources Consulted"); though it is now more than a decade old, it is still perhaps the most complete available. [AMF]
London : Thames & Hudson ; [San Francisco] : Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2001.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .J66 2001
This catalog was published to accompany an exhibition held at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in 2001. Six essays trace the development of the modern artist's book from its beginnings (the French livre d'artiste), through the modernism and Dada of the twenties and thirties, into postwar Abstract Expressionism, and toward contemporary livres d'artistes by artists such as Jasper Johns, R.B. Kitaj, and Francesco Clemente. The illustrated catalog entries contain ample descriptive information, including dimensions, housing, typeface, edition, and printers. [AMF]
Berkeley, Calif. : Codex Foundation, c2008.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .B643 2008 F
While not strictly an introductory survey, this volume produced as a record of the first biennial Codex Book Fair and Symposium (Berkeley, CA, 2007) contains essays and images that address the state of the contemporary book arts in a comprehensive manner. David Jury's introduction provides an historical context for the design, printing, binding, and publishing of today; the lecture transcripts address themes both personal (e.g., Felipe Ehrenberg's development as a book artist) and international (e.g., Sarah Bodman's overview of book artists in the UK and Ireland). The bulk of the volume, however, is taken up by a visual sample of works exhibited at the fair and by a directory of the exhibitors--an important means to understanding the scope and depth of this contemporary art form. [AMF]
New York : Museum of Modern Art : distributed by Harry N. Abrams, c1994.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .C38 1994
Castleman's catalog, published to accompany a MoMA exhibition, includes 195 illustrated and richly annotated examples of the form. Her aim, in assembling this selection and composing the catalog essay, was to survey the history of artists' books not necessarily chronologically, but with reference to influence, collaboration, and synchronicity. Interestingly, Castleman excludes unique and handmade books from her survey, focusing solely upon books produced as multiples. Featured artists include Pablo Picasso, Gilbert & George, Robert Ryman, Josef Albers, Sonia DeLaunay, Dieter Roth, Barbara Kruger, and Pierre Bonnard. [AMF]
New York : Granary Books, 1995.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .D78 1995
Drucker attempts to define the term "artist's book" by describing (and not prescribing) its critical roles and functions within the larger world of books. She argues, in her introduction, that "an artist's book has to have some conviction, some soul, some reason to be and to be a book in order to succeed" (10-11). For instance, she explores the artist's book--very separate, in her mind, from the livre d'artiste (in claiming this she is opposing the definition laid out by Riva Castleman in A Century of Artists Books)--as an "auratic object;" a self-reflexive exercise, a locus of "verbal exploration;" a provocative statement; a conceptual space. Her survey is therefore thematic and not specifically chronological, though treatment of early twentieth-century books is contained solely within an early chapter while late twentieth-century books make up the remainder of the book's exemplary content. [AMF]
Rotterdam : NAi Publishers, c2002.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » N7433.3 .P47 2002
Perrée's discussion of artists' books centers around works produced during and after the 1960s, for, as he argues, "the artist's book especially rhymes with an age in which traditional media and forms of expression were being abandoned because they stood for an art world that many artists had simply had enough of" (19). He avoids providing a definition of the art form and instead concentrates upon several important themes: artists' books in his home country of the Netherlands; the line that can--or cannot--be drawn between artists' books and exhibition catalogs (here he uses Lauf and Phillpot's Artist/Author as an example); the physical constraints involved in exhibiting books; the philosophical and fiscal motivations of these books' publishers. Perrée intersperses examples with his essays; as they are relatively few in number, the text as a whole becomes much more conceptually than visually focused. [AMF]

Focused studies

London : British Library, 2007.
Art & Architecture Library (Bowes) » Stacks » Z246 .B737 2007
This catalog, published on the occasion of the British Library's 2007-2008 exhibition, focuses upon the development of artists' books in the early years of the twentieth century by their most progressive proponents, the Avant-Garde. The authors argue for a natural link between the interests and tactics of the Avant-Garde (non-traditional media, democratization of art's raison d'être, internationalism) and the wide distribution of printed texts--e.g., manifestos, small-run journals, photobooks--by its members. The majority of the catalog, however, is devoted to surveying innovations in the art form and its major practitioners in a series of individual cities (all European with the exception of New York) in order to reveal concurrent commonalities and local idiosyncrasies. [AMF]
The essays in this exhibition catalog focus upon the relative rarity of modern and contemporary artists' forays into children's book design and point toward the catalog itself as an opportunity to expand these books' reach. Essayists Annie Pissard and Giorgio Maffei both cite Bruno Munari as a guiding force; the catalog images represent his work as well as that of artists such as Annette Messager, Katsumi Komagata, Keith Haring, Alighiero Boetti, and Siona Delaunay. [AMF]
1st ed. New York City : Granary Books : Distributed to the trade by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2005.
Green Library » Stacks » Z1033 .F5 B75 2005
In this substantial monograph, Bright includes a substantial history of book art in Europe and America before focusing upon the decades of the 1960s and 70s in great detail. Dividing artists' books into type (fine press, deluxe, multiple, and sculptural), he traces each decade's production while punctuating the narrative with specific developments, e.g., the writings of Marshall McLuhan, the founding of New York's Center for Book Arts, the evolution of collecting in the face of more and more conceptual production, the establishment of the Visual Studies Workshop, the increasing use of the photocopier as a creative tool, and the adoption of the book as a locus for feminist artmaking. An image of American artists' book production emerges that is heterogeneous but reflective of the social climate(s) in which it developed. [AMF]
New York : Museum of Modern Art : distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Green Library » Stacks » Z116 .A3 R69 2002
A thorough introduction to the topic, this MoMA exhibition catalog includes images of hundreds of books, arranged chronologically (1910-24; 1916-33; 1924-34) and thematically (e.g., "Futurist Poets and Painters," "Constructivist Graphic Design," and "Photography and Photomontage"). The essays and section introductions treat Futurism, Primitivism, Seprematism, and Constructivism in turn--but all include mention of one of these books' most common features: a tendency toward collaboration among visual and textual contributors, and a resulting unity of concept. [AMF]

Primary sources

1 ¢ life.

Walasse Ting [edited by Sam Francis].
Bern, Switzerland, E.W. Kornfeld, 1964.
170 p. illus. (part. col.) 42 cm.

Until the late 1950s, the creation of livres d’artistes had been mainly a European phenomenon. This expansive collection of lithographs housed within screenprinted boards is a relatively early example of a shift—in large part due to Pop art’s preoccupation with the multiple—toward American-led production of artists’ books. Twenty-eight American and European artists, mingling Pop, abstract, and Conceptualist sensibilities (Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Pierre Alechinsky, Joan Mitchell, Karel Appel, Enrico Baj, Allan Kaprow, and Sam Francis, the book’s editor and organizer, among them), contributed sixty-two color lithographs. Walasse Ting, a Chinese-born American artist with ties to the Paris-based Cobra, composed the sixty-one poems that punctuate many of the pages. Focused upon New York, they describe particularities of life in the city—from street signs to poverty to love. The unbound signatures were printed in Paris in an edition of 2,100. The Library’s copy is number 170, signed by Francis, Ting, and Kornfeld.

5 year plan.

Aaron Sinift et al.
[Ridgewood, NY? : A. Sinift] 2010.
[32] leaves : chiefly col. ill. ; 34 x 34 cm. + 1 book (xii, 164 p. ; 18 cm.)
N7433.4 .S588 F5 2010 ARTLCKL

Inspired by jholas (simple Indian bags made of handspun cotton, decorated with commercial, political, or natural images), this collaborative artists' book--made of the same handspun khodi cotton--was created with Gandhi's goals of economic self-sufficiency and sustenance of valuable traditions in mind. Twenty-six artists, including Francesco Clemente and Yoko Ono, contributed their images to the project; the fabric, produced by artisans in India, was silkscreened with these images and then hand-sewn into a cloth codex. In conceiving this project, Aaron Sinift's goals were to support the tradition of handmade goods in India; to pay respect to Gandhi's lasting accomplishments; to establish a participatory practice; and, finally, to create a beautiful object.

Anti alert!

Scott Williams.
San Francisco, Calif.? : Scott Williams, 2008?]
[54] p. : all col. ill. ; 31 cm.
N7433.4 .W547 A75 2008 F ARTLCKS

Known for his collaborations with other San Francisco artists, this year-and-a-half solo effort by Williams showcases the stenciling and airbrushing technique he has used in other works such as Watch Your Step and Collect Call from the Spirit World.  But with Anti Alert! Williams moves into new territory, collaging stencils onto pages and even cutting out the pages themselves to produce stencils within the book.  The cut and collaged pages are stenciled with a variety of inks, including translucent inks that shimmer as the pages turn.  The result is a very dense, image-laden piece that strongly reflects the stencil/spray can graffiti qualities associated with San Francisco “Mission School” street art.  A complementary text runs through the book, the words either stenciled onto or cut out of the pages, such that one reads simultaneously on and through each page's surface.  The pages are thick and weighty due to the layering of paper and ink, each one a physical and palpable construction that requires the viewer to engage with and appreciate the artist's effort and method.

Die Neue Stadt.

[Dieser Psalm wurde von Josef Luitpold geschrieben ; von O.R. Schatz in den Jahren 1926-1927 in Holz geschnitten]
Berlin : Verlag Büchergilde Gutenberg, [1927?] (Berlin : Buchdruckwerkstätte G.m.b.h.)
[75] p. : ill. ; 43 cm.
PT2639 .T479 N48 1927 F ARTLCKL

Following closely after Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity] emerged in Germany as a loose association of artistic sentiments promulgated by painters and illustrators, as well as photographers, architects, and writers. Although manifestations of this “style” vary, it can be typified by its emphasis on realism vs. abstraction or romanticism, its utilization of pre-machine age techniques and genres, and its comparatively sober reaction—explicit or implied—to the tumultuous political events of the post-WWI Weimar era.

Die Neue Stadt is both a representation of New Objectivity’s articulation in Austria and a demonstration of Expressionism’s continuing aesthetic influence there. The text is steeped in the ideals of social democracy, a relatively moderate political ideology popular in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere before and after World War I. The poem takes the form of a modern psalm; Luitpold Stern believed that the political and social rebirth he envisioned for Vienna could be encompassing and transcendent. Otto Rudolf Schatz’s illustrations reiterate this optimistic social bent, representing as they do citizens undertaking symbolic activities of reconstruction, collective study, and political assembly. The images’ appearance, however, is more typically Expressionist, echoing the work of German printmakers such as Erich Heckel, Gerhard Marcks, and Conrad Felixmüller.

Local conditions : one hundred views of Mount Rainier (at least).

Chandler O'Leary.
Tacoma, Washington : Anagram Press, 2010.
N7433.4 .O53 L63 2010 ARTLCKM

Referencing Hokusai's One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji in both name and style, Chandler O'Leary's Local Conditions presents a collection of 120 letterpressed, hand-colored, and hand-cut cards that, in combination, recreate [at least] one hundred different views of North America's Fuji sibling: Mount Rainier. O'Leary's creative process included two years of documentation through sketches and photographs. One of her goals was to present Rainier as impermanent, changing, "restless;" each view a record of a moment passed.

©2010 Chandler O'Leary. Used with permission.

Tragic book 1-9.

Various authors.
[Brooklyn, N.Y.] : Artichoke Yink Press, 1993-2005.
Dimensions variable.
N7433.35 .U6 T73 V.1-9 ARTLCKS/M/L

Tragic Book is a set of nine collaborative artists' books organized by book artist Christopher Wilde and published by his Artichoke Yink Press. As Wilde himself describes it, the books were conceived as “the opposite of a comic book…a compendium of tragedies large and small.” What this meant in practice, however, evolved over the twelve years. At the beginning, in 1993, the youthful content was focused upon the odd and disgusting; the aesthetic was very “’zine:” hand-drawn, photocopied, and staple-bound. Issue number three (1993) moved beyond staple binding, but the grotesque aesthetic continued in the production of latex covers molded to resemble vomit. By 2001, the year in which issue number eight was produced, the concept of tragedy had become much more tangible, the events of September 11 having taken place outside Wilde’s window in the midst of the issue’s production. The book itself had by this time moved into the realm of fine press production: number eight is traditionally bound in small format, printed using multiple processes including letterpress and lithography, and covered in commercially produced lenticular images. Indeed, one of the series’ most interesting aspects is its stylistic evolution which parallels the publisher’s and artists’ increasing commitment to the project as well as the maturing of their own careers. Some of the artists (including Mark Wagner, Marshall Weber, and Scott Teplin) have, in fact, gone on to establish quite successful careers in visual art and poetry in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Each issue exists in an edition that corresponds roughly with the number of contributors. Contributors were not paid for their efforts, and no issues were offered for sale; accordingly, Stanford's copies are the first to be held in any library collection.

Volute, 2008.

Laura Wait.
Steamboat Springs, Colo. : Akimbo Arts, 2008.
hand-printed v. (unpaged) : col. ; 36 cm. in box.
N7433.4 .W35 V66 2008 F ARTLCKM

Wait's one-of-a-kind artist's book, the eighth in a larger nine-book project, is a visual and textual exploration of spiral and labyrinth forms. It is also a beautiful example of several printing techniques--etchingcollotype, and woodcut, punctuated by hand painting and writing--combined within a single work. Not simply a series of individually decorated pages, Volute demonstrates the way in which the codex form can be used outside of narrative, to guide the viewer from one image to the next through an incitement to visual meditation.

SOMA : Guarding the body.

by Alan Loney.
Malvern East, Vic, Australia : Electio Editions, 2008.
[48] p. : col. ill. ; 24 cm.
N7433.4 .L64 S66 2008 ARTLCKS

Loney's letterpressed volume, handbound and printed on handmade paper, is an exceptional contemporary example of this traditional printing process. Letterpress is a form of relief printing that utilizes movable type--traditionally of metal or wood--to produce pages for large or small editions. SOMA: Guarding the Body utilizes the form in a somewhat self-reflexive way: many of its images are constructed from elements used in the process of letterpress printing itself (the so-called "typographic images" noted in the title), such as brass spacers and rules. And the text, a hybrid of translated pre-Socratic texts and Loney's own poetic additions, includes implied and explicit descriptions of words as tangible entities, a sensibility underscored by the tactile quality of the letterpress printing. The text literally and figuratively merges with the page and with the accompanying images, allowing the book to form a single entity, a livre d'artiste.