What happens to the authentic, hand-made "artist's book" when the artist is so successful that he or she can command all the resources of a major publishing house?
Well, that homey little tome is likely to morph into a slick limited-edition artist's monograph or coffee-table book.
The artist's book has gone big time.
For 30 years, the German artist Anselm Kiefer has made large, sculptural books with pages like paintings, layered with straw, lead and his trademark script. Scandalously, in 1993 -- celebrating the end of his first marriage -- the artist exhibited hundreds of white-painted ledgers and handmade books, the pages stained with 20 years worth of his own semen and called 20 Jahre Einsamkeit (Twenty Years of Solitude).
Kiefer's latest book is a slim, oversized volume of photos titled ich halte alle Indien in meiner Hand (I hold all India in my hand) (Schirmer Mosel). The haunting images, in muted color and grainy black and white, show a dilapidated, sunken pool, its wall marked as if by prisoners counting the days, and picture the artist in the water, floating a kind of map of the Indian subcontinent.
This very beautiful and cryptic book is available for $60 (hardcover).
Sometimes people have trouble sleeping, and the celebrated Surrealist sculptor Louise Bourgeois seems to have spent the eight months between November 1994 through June 1995 tossing and turning. She kept a nocturnal journal of haunted dreams, often transcribed in red ballpoint ink on pages torn from notebooks. Now part of the Zurich-based Daros Collection, these works have become the basis of a two-volume book called The Insomnia Drawings (Scalo, 580 pp.).
The thick, red-bound volume one contains 220 reproductions of the drawings, and on the reverse, notes, lists, letters and nonsense penned by the artist in French and English. The second, thin blue volume contains essays from art scholars and Bourgeois enthusiasts Marie-Louise Bernadac and Elisabeth Bronfen.
Fans of the octogenarian artist are advised to get their hands on a copy fast, since Scalo plans only this one limited printing of 1,500 copies. The book is priced at $95.
A media handbook
The Glasgow artist Douglas Gordon, who gained art-world notoriety for his projection of Hitchcock's Psycho one frame at a time for 24 hours, is clearly a latter-day appropriation artist, as is evident from the new eponymous Douglas Gordon (Tate Gallery), issued in conjunction with a show at Tate Liverpool, June 23-Oct. 2000.
The first half of the book reproduces Gordon's picture archive. On pages quartered by perforated lines are images of 1950s kitsch, religious propaganda (Is the Bible Really the Word of God?), stills from Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972) and Scorcese's Taxi Driver (1976), Hollywood publicity photos, comic book covers, The Evening Times headline announcing John Lennon's death, and smutty French pictures of bikinied women and cinema divas in various formats (including detail and pixel-rich zoom-ins).
The second half is devoted to fragments of Douglas's writings, from graphic one-liners to a screenplay composed by indie filmmaker Hal Hartley of e-mail messages received from Gordon, all in many different fonts and colored inks.
Designed by Bruce Mau, this book is a steal at only $50 (softbound). It is available in the U.S. through University of Washington Press.
Waiting for Tracey
Followers of the yBa Tracey Emin -- possibly more beloved in England even than Damien Hirst -- are looking forward to her new book, the first by her own hand, due out in April 2001 from Booth-Clibborn Editions in London. The book is expected to include candid shots of the artist in her studio on London's Brick Lane, in New York and Berlin, and include many previously unpublished drawings and early pieces. The 400-page book, priced at $125 (hardcover), is scheduled to coincide with her solo show at London's White Cube.
The Pain Journal
Five years after the death of self-described supermasochist Bob Flanagan, who was the oldest living survivor of cystic fibrosis when he died at age 43 on Jan. 4, 1996, we have his The Pain Journal (Semiotext(e)/Smart Art). Flanagan's unique method of alleviating the physical pain of his disease was to practice a kind of self-medication wherein pain and pleasure became inextricably linked, resulting in his lifelong practice of extreme masochism.
Flanagan made pain-inspired performance art, and once appeared in a Nine Inch Nails music video that was banned on MTV. One of his better known tricks was nailing his penis to a board.
Whereas Flanagan's notorious The Fuck Journal (Hanuman Press, 1994) celebrated the erotics of pain, in this new book he writes about the pain and "the sheer boredom of dying"-- very well and wittily. The 178 pages read morbidly quickly when you think that these pages represent the last 408 days of Flanagan's life. The book is $11.95 (paperback).
The fashion photographer Sarah Moon turns her camera to a more personal project in Still (Weinstein Gallery, Minn., 76 pp.), making darkly luminous, effigy-like images of dolls, mannequins and women's torsos as a metaphor for the fragility of physical beauty. The extremely tactile and beautiful reproductions of her Polaroids are an interesting counterpoint to her commercial work, and look like extremely well-preserved, turn of the century sepia-toned prints.
A sensuous object packaged in a tight-fitting cardboard slipcase, Still is published in a limited edition of signed and numbered copies at $275 each. Still was published by the Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis in conjunction with an exhibition of her work in late 2000.
A few works about publishers
One of the more interesting independent publishers is the East London-based Book Works. Opened as a gallery in 1984 by a group of freelance printers, printmakers and bookbinders to generate an interest and a context for their work, within three years Book Works was seeking proposals for artist's books from other artists and writers. Now the company has evolved into a publishing and promotional enterprise that creates works beyond the basic book form -- multiples, videos, CD-ROMS -- and projects beyond the "expected parameters."
Book Works has worked with an impressive range of popular contemporary artists, including David Bowie, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon, Susan Hiller, Derek Jarman, Joseph Kosuth, Cornelia Parker, Richard Prince and Rachel Whiteread.
Among its recently published titles is Harland Miller's First I was Afraid, I was Petrified (60 pp., softcover). Each page is a Polaroid of the home environment the obsessive-compulsive protagonist is never able to leave for fear he'll neglect to shut off the gas, turn off the tap, or lock the door. Priced at $16, the book is published in a run of 1,500 copies.
Another Book Works title is Diamond Sea (146 pp, softcover) by Doug Aitken, whose epic video installations won the Gold Palm at the last Venice Biennial. One of four publications commissioned by London-based curator Stefan Kalmár, this tome takes the reader on a journey through the artist's photographs of the man-made corporate landscape along the coastline of the Nambian desert. Published in an edition of 1,000 copies, the book is only $20.
Another, somewhat more traditional publisher -- and a favorite among book artists for more than a decade -- is Granary Books. Recently published Granary titles include Joe Brainard: A
Retrospective ($29.95), which was released in conjunction with a commemorative exhibition at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and celebrated on the cover of Artforum, Feb. 2001. Thank heavens that Granary also reprinted Brainard's classic book of Beatnik poems, I Remember ($12).
Granary has also published Johanna Drucker's pocket-sized title called Night Crawlers on the Web ($12), a high-tech Gothic tale of several unfortunate users -- Elleott Eego, Mary 23.B in Virginia, Chas de. Man@ South Fork, and Emma in Albuquerque --united by 56k modem love connections. Granary's art extends even to its publishing catalogue, which is itself something of a work of art. Titled When will the book be done? ($40), it features descriptions of nearly 100 artists' books, writer/artist collaborations and scholarly texts pertaining to books made since 1984.
Speaking of Drucker, for a more detailed discussion of artists' books, see her The Century of Artists' Books (published by Granary Books as a clothbound edition in 1995; the paperback was issued in 1997) -- a reference most book artists feel guilty about not reading from cover to cover.
This work situates artists' books within 20th-century art movements -- from Russian Futurism and Surrealism to Fluxus, Conceptual Art and Postmodernism -- where they "came of age." Topics include: "The Artist's Book as a Rare and/or Auratic Object," "Self-Reflexivity in Book Form," "The Artist's Book as an Agent of Social Change," "The Book as a Conceptual Space," etc.
The 396-page book is available for $24.95 (softcover) in most bookstores.
Another great reference is Bookstorming.com, albeit its bad translation from French to English. The site features the latest artists' books from John Baldessari, Sophie Calle, Phillipe Durand, Martin Parr, Marc Quinn and Xavier Veilhand.
An even more up to date reference is the Book Arts Web at http://www.philobiblon.com/. This site features a book arts gallery; links to artists' book dealers worldwide and book arts organizations; tips for the trade and aspiring book artists; and much more.