Art transforms books

Art transforms books

Literary nook

Art transforms books

Incredible: Poet William Blake's art work; Ever since Romantic poet and artist William Blake handpainted and bound his own books and sold them for a few shillings in the mid-18th century, artists around the world have been experimenting with bookmaking, overturning its narrative structure to explore new artistic dimensions.

Today, an increasing number of artists from different disciplines are introducing books as original, autonomous works of art. The books are printed in small editions, often numbered and signed, and are displayed in art spaces, museums and auction houses.

The trend is particularly visible in Paris where galleries, universities and dedicated events are promoting the medium.

“The main point about this trend is that these aren’t exhibition catalogues,” said Camille Henrot, a Paris-based artist who mainly works on sculpture and video. “They aren’t derivative products of a larger project, but an independent project in their own right, even when created in relation to an exhibition.”

Henrot’s first book, published in 2007 by her gallerist, Kamel Mennour, started as a record of observations she collected when she was preparing an exhibition with the artist Yona Friedman. Entitled Transmission/Reception, it documented the dialogue between the two artists and gathered faxes, photographs, handwritten notes and sketches. “This was initially supposed to be the catalogue of the exhibition but became the exact opposite of the promotional tool that a catalogue can be,” Henrot said.

The format is intriguing, she continued, because it moves away from classical, linear reading. “It can be opened, read, understood in any direction,” she said.

Sylvie Boulanger, the director of the CNEAI (Centre National de l’Edition et de l’Art Imprime), a contemporary art centre dedicated to the presentation and production of artist books in Chateau, outside Paris, said that although artists’ books “have a long history, institutions worldwide today are increasingly opening the doors to them, from the Bremen Museum in Germany, to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Geneva, to auction sales.” Christie’s and Sotheby’s are both including a significant number of artist books in their June sales, for example. “The book is subjected to a contemporary art context.”

Early this year, Boulanger opened an art space in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris, dedicated to presenting artist books within a gallery context and encourage collaborations between not only artists, curators and critics but also musicians and neurologists.

When making a book, Boulanger said, the artist “also becomes a collector and a curator.” She added: “This is the cheapest form of art-making and diffusion, which makes sense in today’s economical context.”

Other smaller, independent galleries are also intrigued by the book format and its relation to the artwork. Le Pied de Biche in the llth Arrondissement holds a triple license of gallery, publishing house and independent comic book publisher. It organises its own book projects that it then publishes, produces and sells, often inviting artists coming from specialities ranging from graffiti to tattoo. The books are then presented through exhibitions.

“As a library-gallery, we like to question the boundary between art and book, creating a hybrid space and object,” said Tiffany Khalil, the gallery’s director. (A coming art comic book, due in December, will feature Khalil, a former illustrator and street artist, and several contributors.)

Artist books can also be the continuation of an experience, said Patrice Jolly, the director of the Biennale de Belleville, which was held for the first time last autumn. Jolly, along with the biennial team, is working with 30 contributors on a book (to be published late this year) based on the experience of the event, which took place indoors and outdoors, all over the neighbourhood. An art book is “the extension of the oeuvre rather than an inventory,” he said.

At the Parisian art school Les Arts Decoratifs, there is an entire section specialised in artist books. There, one is taught to work with techniques as varied as engraving, silk screens and classical methods of printing. Bruno Albizzati, a student at the school, said he usually works on large scale drawing and painting, but his books include smaller scale pieces, mixed with poems. “For example, a series of drawings I’ve made were inspired by poems by Egon Schiele. The book format allows me to bring in text and create a dialogue between the origin and my interpretation.”

Albizzati said he was drawn to the medium because a book was “something you live with and interact for a long time, and it is nice to know that many people can have this relationship with a work of art.”

New York Times Service