October 10, 2008

Show & tell: Contemporary practice in artists' books

In the October issue of The Brooklyn Rail I write about artists' books and how on-demand printers have made book publishing affordable for unfunded artists. Special thanks to everyone who shared their book project experiences with me.

"This month over 138 international publishers, booksellers, and antiquarian dealers will stock their bookshelves at Printed Matter’s annual fair for contemporary art books, art catalogs, artists’ books, art periodicals, and zines. In addition, the Art Library Society of New York is hosting a four-day conference to examine contemporary directions in artists’ books. Chances are, both the fair and the conference will be overwhelmingly successful. Although the printed book in general has suffered at the hands of the digital revolution, things haven’t changed too much for lovers of art books. Not merely readers, they are aficionados, aesthetes of the printed page who cherish the touch and feel of ink on paper, and who can afford to cultivate their tastes. Collecting limited-edition books is far less expensive than collecting most other art forms. So even as the art market careens toward an inevitable 'correction,' the book fair is likely to prosper. Cheapness, however, is a relative concept. And traditionally, the artists’ book has financially challenged not so much the collector as the artist.

"Until recently, publishing options for artists, unless funded by dealers, publishers, grants, or trust funds, have been limited. In theory, book projects were aimed at bypassing the gallery system to the artist’s economic advantage, but in practice, the need for outside funding simply added another gatekeeper. Artists who chose to finance the production of books on their own were limited in terms of print quality and print-run, both of which must be fairly high for stores specializing in artist books, like Printed Matter, to accept them for distribution...." Read more.

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