(In)Visibility of Unique Artists’ Books

Event Info

Since the earliest discussion of artists’ books in the 1970s, the debate continues over the place of unique artists’ books in their limited canon. But as a critic and researcher, the most challenging question surrounding unique artists’ books is not, is it a book, but rather, where is it?

Unique artists’ books were included in some of the most important historical shows of artists’ books, and continue to be exhibited in shows today. But where do they go after these exhibitions? Why don’t they appear more frequently in research and in critical writings? Unlike the democratic multiple or editioned work, the unique artists’ book often disappears after a period, into a collection, artists’ studio, or worse, lost to a storage closet. Attempts to review unique artists’ books prove challenging as the access to these works is necessarily limited, as is the ability to handle or spend time reading the work. And unlike a sculpture, one or two images of the work will not suffice for thoughtful research or writing.

This presentation will take you through several case studies in my recent research into artists’ books from the 1970s. I will recount my research into these artists and my attempts to locate, photograph, see, and exhibit these works, which in most cases failed. In particular, I will focus on Jacqui Holmes and Reginald Walker, two New York-based artists who, despite ties to major institutions such as Center for Book Arts, Franklin Furnace, NYPL, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, have largely disappeared from art history, in no small part because they produced unique artists’ books, challenging to find and document. I will trace my research through institution archives, museum and gallery records, and my struggles to obtain images (and image rights) to share these works more widely, a problem that significantly impacts the visibility of unique artists’ books. (In)Visibility of Unique Artists’ Books will consider who and what gets to be canonized as an artists’ book, and how barriers to access limit this conversation. The importance of resurfacing the legacy of these artists is undeniable, and the need to consider their absence more critically is more urgent than ever. This presentation will raise awareness of the challenges and barriers to entry in researching historical artworks, raising questions about the visibility and access to archives more broadly, and who legacy and work these institutions really serve.


About CABC

Initiated in 2008 by a group of independent volunteers, the Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference presents in depth talks, panels, and conversations to further the critical dialog surrounding artists’ books. CABC Now administered by Center for Book Arts, the CABC committee is made up of a group of independent historians, art librarians, artists, and professionals in the field, sessions cover a range of lively topics from artists, scholars, and other leading figures.

The Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference is a long time programing partner of Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs. The 2022 conference is scheduled to take place virtually in October 14 & 15, 2022 in conjunction with Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair.

See the full conference schedule and visit the archive here.

About Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs

Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs are among the leading international gatherings for the distribution of artists’ books, celebrating the full breadth of the art publishing community.

Printed Matter presents the 2022 NY Art Book Fair taking place October 13–16, 2022 at 548 W. 22nd Street. NYABF returns to the historic location of Printed Matter’s first Art Book Fair, right around the corner from our Chelsea bookstore! After three years apart, we are grateful to have this opportunity to reunite in person and celebrate the history and future of artists’ book publishing together.

Learn more about NYABF at pmabf.org

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