Craft & Conceptual Art: Reshaping the Legacy of Artists’ Books

Barbara T. Smith, Coffin: In Self Defense, 1967. Courtesy the artist and The Box Los Angeles. Photo: Luis Corzo.

Curated by Megan N. Liberty

Craft & Conceptual Art: Reshaping the Legacy of Artists’ Books, curated by Megan N. Liberty, reconsiders the early history of artists’ books.

In the history of art, craft and conceptual art are often placed at odds. Craft emphasizes the materiality of the object, while conceptual art emphasizes the dematerialization of the object. But artists’ books offer a unique merging of these premises in the book’s status as a conceptual, tactile, and often ephemeral object. Successful artists’ books blend the craft of its making—paper, binding, scale, and printing method—with a conceptual premise tied to its status as time-based media in which the idea of the book—sequence, repetition, and audience activation—is essential to its meaning. While early exhibitions and writing on artists’ books maintained both these practices, including unique and small-edition handmade books that verge towards sculpture alongside mass-produced photobooks, paperbacks, and stapled zines, the history of artists’ books has since shifted, primitizing only the democracy of the genre and ghettoizing expensive, unique, and sculptural bookworks.

Craft & Conceptual Art: Reshaping the Legacy of Artists’ Books, will revisit this early history, focusing on the intertwined legacies of book art centers across the US whose primary goal has been to teach the craft practices of book arts, and other institutions focused on distribution and collecting. Tracing the foundation and production of book art organization across the US—including, Center for Book Arts in 1974, Printed Matter and Franklin Furnace in 1976, Minnesota Center for Book Arts in 1983, and San Francisco Center for the Book in 1996—this exhibition will show craft and conceptual art not to be opposites, but rather two ends of a spectrum of book art practices.

The exhibition will focus on book art production beginning in the mid 1960s that was exhibited from 1973-1996, drawing a—albeit zig-zag—line from the first cited US exhibition of artists’ books at Moore College to the founding of San Francisco Center for the Book, charting an expanding definition, practice, and legacy of bookmaking across the US. It will include a range of artists, from Liliana Porter, Howardena Pindell, and Suzanne Lacy, to Barton Lidice Beneš and Sas Colby. Leaning heavily on the archives and exhibition history of institutions devoted to craft and conceptual art, this exhibition will revisit who and what was considered an “artists’ book.” In doing so, Craft & Conceptual Art will shed new light on both ends of the sliding scale between craft and conceptual art, allowing us to better understand the growing field of artists’ book production.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring additional contributions by Sur Rodney (Sur), David Senior, Kayleigh Perkov, and Tara Aisha Willis, and a selection of reprinted historical texts.

Craft & Conceptual Art, Front Cover (2023) CBA

Pre-Order Your Copy of Craft & Conceptual Art $50 $45.00

Edition: 500
Binding: Perfect bound softcover
Dimensions: 9 x 12 inches
Pages: 120
ISBN: 978-1-951163-12-9

This book will ship on January 15, 2023. Orders place before January 13, 2023 will automatically receive the pre-order discount of $5 off the list price.

The Book Craft & Conceptual Art: Reshaping the Legacy of Artists’ Books, edited by Megan N. Liberty, reconsiders the early history of artists’ books. This fully illustrated catalogue features additional contributions by David Senior, Sur Rodney (Sur), Kayleigh Perkov, and Tara Aisha Willis, and a selection of reprinted historical texts.

Megan N. Liberty

Megan N. Liberty is an arts writer, editor, and archivist based in Brooklyn who writes about artists’ books, ephemera, archives, and other multidisciplinary meetings of text and image. She is the Art Books section editor at the Brooklyn Rail and co-founder of the Book Art Review. Her writing appears regularly on Hyperallergic and in ArtReview, and has also been published in, Art in America, Frieze, NY Review of Books Daily, LA Review of Books, White Review,Art in Print, and elsewhere. She has led and participated in public conversations on artists’ books and publishing with the Brooklyn Rail, Contemporary Artist Book Conference, Hill Art Foundation, and Miriam Gallery, and teaches workshops for early career artists on the practical and conceptual importance of self-archiving. She was a 2019-20 AICA/USA and Creative Capital/The Andy Warhol Foundation’s Arts Writing Workshop participant, and has an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London and a BA in English from Dickinson College, PA.


Harriet Bart

Barton Lidice Beneš

Helen M. Brunner

Frances Butler

Ulises Carrión

Sas Colby

Betsy Davids

Agnes Denes

Mirtha Dermisache

Sylvia De Swaan

Mindell Dubansky

Philip Gallo

Berwyn Hung

Gerald Jackson

​​Susan E. King

Alison Knowles

Suzanne Lacy

Ellen Lanyon

Gordon Matta-Clark

Richard Minsky

Louise Neaderland

Yoko Ono

Benjamin Patterson

Howardena Pindell

Liliana Porter

Ed Ruscha

Lucas Samaras

Carolee Schneemann

Clarissa Sligh

Barbara T. Smith

Keith Smith

Michelle Stuart

Melody Sumner

Cecilia Vicuña

Reginald Walker


Visit the Exhibition

Craft & Conceptual Art: Reshaping the Legacy of Artists’ Books will be on view at Center for Book Arts (28 W 27th St, 3rd Fl) from Friday, January 13 through Saturday, March 25, 2023.

CBA is open Monday–Thursday from 11am–6pm and Friday & Saturday from 11am–5pm. Admission is free with a suggested donation.

All visitors are required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination upon arrival and wear a mask covering their nose and mouth at all times while on-site. If you have a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine, please contact CBA Executive Director Corina Reynolds at in advance of your visit.

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