Art Market Blog – Collecting Artists’ Books
The old saying ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ could not be more true in the case of artists’ books, which are a relatively unknown and under appreciated collectible. As the name suggests, the general definition of an artist’s book is a work of art realised in the form a book, but not the sort of book you find at a library. One of the main characteristics differentiating artists’ books from everyday books is the utilisation of the book’s physical form and appearance as a work of art, which means that the artist is involved in the design and production of the book.
When referring to a book we usually think of the standard codex format, but artists’ books utilise the book in all its various forms such as scrolls, fold outs, loose boxed pages etc. As well as using different book formats, book artists use techniques such as altering the format and structure of the pages, using unusual/original materials and printing techniques, experimenting with different forms of binding and creating sculptural book structures. To provide further recognition of the artist’s book as a work of art, and not a commercial product, the artists’ books of today are usually created as ‘one off’s’ or in limited editions and are often hand made.
Artists’ books started to become popular in the 60’s during the emergence of the conceptual art movement, which promoted the idea or concept of an artwork as more important than the art object. These ideas or concepts were often presented in written form such as with Yoko Ono’s ‘Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings’ which gives instructions in poem form for various activities that are meant to invoke a higher state of consciousness and artistic enlightenment if carried out. The increased popularity of sculpture in the 70′s and the emergence of installation art in the 80’s influenced the creation of books that incorporate the sculptural and three dimensional elements that are now a common feature of artists’ books. The 80’s also brought more advanced printing techniques which allowed for easier access to production facilities and an easier production process that led to an increase in the number of artists utilising the book as an art form.
There is plenty of information on artists’ books online as well as online stores such as
‘Printed Matter’ (http://www.printedmatter.org) that sell a wide variety of fantastic artists’ books such as ‘Three Cages’ by Joyce Cutler Shaw, which is a triangle shaped accordion book that incorporates the symmetry of the triangle into it’s structure. ‘Three Cages’ is an edition of 250 with each book signed and numbered and can be purchased for only US$45.
With prices ranging from $20 to several thousand dollars, artists’ books are an affordable way to start collecting art. With the increased interest in collectibles as a form of alternative investment and the growth of the art market there has been a revival in the popularity of artists’ books which I hope will continue to result in greater recognition and appreciation for artists’ books.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.