But, what about Art Books? (by Agnes Wong)

The first Printed Matter location in Tribeca, established by a group active in the creative industry (including Sol LeWitt). 1977. Photo from Printed Matter
The first Printed Matter location in Tribeca, established by a group active in the New York conceptual art scene (including artist Sol LeWitt). 1977. Photo from Printed Matter.

The history of the art book dates back to the 1960’s, when American conceptual artists began to seek out more artistic mediums and began to look into the printed book. According to New York-based artists’ publication organization Printed Matter, “…the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right…” (Printed Matter).

Despite the simple label of “book”, the genre encompasses far more than just books as we know of them. From politically charged posters to limited object “multiples”- this all-inclusive medium is incredibly diverse. The interplay between narrative and image, material, and reader interaction makes for endless possibilities within this medium alone. While varied in form, most artist-initiated publications share intentions of dissemination and communication.

But what’s the connection between art books and graphic design? And why should they be included in Graphic Design: A New History?

These artist-initiated publications often reflect what the world was like when it was created. Some are highly personal, while others can be political. They archive what’s wrong with the world, or what’s interesting about it. Free from the constraints that commercial designers or creators commonly face, these artist books possess artistic and expressive freedom. Moreover, the design of these works vary incredulously, each designed specifically for print or handmade craft. The design of these books oftentimes broke design conventions and defied standards, as the artists behind them envisioned them through a conceptual, rather than functional viewpoint.

Grapefruit, by Yoko Ono. 1964. Image from MoMA.
Grapefruit, by Yoko Ono. 1964. Image from MoMA.

One of the most iconic and well-known examples of an art book would be Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. Originally published in 1964, the book contains only text based instructions that viewers have the choice to carry out or not- suggesting everyday life as an act of performance. Here, the format of the printed book is essential to her concept of relaying the contrast of the lack of [tangibility/physicality] in this artwork.

A collage highlighting some of Bruno Munari's notable works. Image from Printed Matter.
A collage highlighting some of Bruno Munari’s notable works. Image from Printed Matter.

Italian artist Bruno Munari is another renowned artist in the history of art books. Playful and experimental, his books served as tangible exercises in combining print, type, colours, and more. Munari’s Libro Illeggibile series (1949) was an exercise in trying out “all visual communication options and printing techniques that didn’t involve words”. Some of the books were bound with staples or thread and featured pages solely of prismatic paper or of tracing paper festooned with geometric lines. (Budds).

Every Building on the Sunset Strip, by Edward Ruscha. 1966. Image from MACBA.
Every Building on the Sunset Strip, by Edward Ruscha. 1966. Image from MACBA.

Edward Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) remains as one of the most representative works that come to mind upon the mention of art books. Inexpensive in production and unique in its foldout accordian format, Ruscha’s unsigned book has remained highly influential in the history of art photo books. On the label during the 2012-2013 exhibition “The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook” at the Museum of Modern Art New York, Every Building on the Sunset Strip was described as: “While each book chronicles an aspect of Los Angeles or the artist’s round-trip drives between LA and Oklahoma, their use of photography as a form of map-making or topographical study signals a conceptual, rather than documentary, thrust” (MoMA).

Even with just the mere three examples from above, the spanse and influence of art books in the history of graphic design and art can be seen. They were products of influences, and have undoubtedly influenced others. From concept to creative execution, these works prompt interesting questions and ideas into the ongoing discussion of graphic design.

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2017. Photo from on-days.com
Tokyo Art Book Fair 2017. Photo from on-days.com

 

Works Cited

“Artist Book.” Printed Matter, www.printedmatter.org/about/artist-book.

“Artists’ Books by Bruno Munari – A Table by Printed Matter.” Printed Matter, www.printedmatter.org/catalog/tables/68.

Budds, Diana. “Bruno Munari Will Make You Fall In Love With Books All Over Again.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 14 Aug. 2018, www.fastcompany.com/3047507/bruno-munari-will-make-you-fall-in-love-with-books-all-over-again.

“Mission History.” Printed Matter, www.printedmatter.org/about/mission-history.

Ono, Yoko. “Yoko Ono. Grapefruit. 1964: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/127492.

Ruscha, Edward. “Edward Ruscha. Every Building on the Sunset Strip. 1966: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/146931.

Ruscha, Edward. “Edward Ruscha. Every Building on the Sunset Strip. 1966: MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/146931.

Ruscha, and Edward. “Every Building on The Sunset Strip.” MACBA Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona, 1 Jan. 1966, www.macba.cat/en/art-artists/artists/ruscha-edward/every-building-sunset-strip.

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