Does printed matter really still matter? Anyone will be quick to tell you that, in the digital age, books are an antiquity soon to be obsolete. But as a new tome by Phaidon demonstrates, the possibilities of books are truly endless.
Edited by Andrew Roth, Philip E Aarons and Claire Lehman, with contributions from Benjamin HD Buchloh and Tauba Auerbach, the book explores the various ways in which 32 artists – including Sophie Calle, Hans-Peter Feldman and Richard Prince – have made their own books.
Starting in 1957, Artists Who Make Books moves through conventional interpretations to more avant-garde approaches to the book format. Among the latter group is the late Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, for whom artists books were an integral part of his art and thinking, using the form to challenge our notion of documentation, learning and reading—ideas that are all tied up in a book’s binding.
In his lifetime, he published five epic artist books, each title in multiple volumes, including ‘I MET’, a list of the people the artist spoke to everyday for 12 years, arranged in chronological order. The prolific German conceptualist Hanna Darboven, who considered her art a kind of writing, produced thousands of pages in a similarly eccentric manner, to represent time and order.
Other artists have been compelled by the physical rather than the political nature of books, playing with shape, size and structure, from an accordion-folded pocket sized volume, to a book that measures over a metre, or a book whose microscopic gold print can only be read with a magnifying glass.
There are many other treats for print fans on these pages: such as Andy Warhol’s little-known illustrated cookbook, Wild Raspberries, and Martin Kippenberger’s conceptual series, Don Quixote – cork boxes shaped like books, each containing a single page, and 50 personal photographs.
These books within a book all have one thing in common, however: they are all objects that can be held, coveted and kept – something that can’t be rivalled in the digital domain.
Artists Who Make Books, $125, published by Phaidon, available from 23 October
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Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.
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