Artists books are creations that often resemble traditional books only in the broadest possible conceptual sense, as with Dieter Roths circa-1968 Literature Sausage. Roth shredded novels he didnt like, mixed the pulp with spices and gelatin, and then squeezed the whole mess into sausage casings.
Artists books are all about the clash of art, literature and revolt, and nationally their appeal has been gaining recognition, says Bonnie Clearwater, executive director at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Theyre portable, accessible, and the work is so varied, she says.
South Florida is both collecting and displaying such works with the intensity of an extreme sport. Miami is home to the internationally recognized Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, collected over many years by Dr. Marvin Sackner, a pulmonologist, and wife Ruth. The University of Miami, the Broward County Library and the Wolfsonian-FIU are among local institutions with collections of artists books.
This summer, Florida Atlantic Universitys Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts is drawing new audiences with a family-friendly exhibition of rare pop-up books.
That popularity presents a marked change from the early 1980s, when the Sackners began their collection. The archive contains experimental typographic, text and image works, and artists books by such luminaries as the British painter and printmaker Tom Phillips.
When we started, no one could figure out if they belonged in libraries or museums, says Marvin Sackner. But the form is more accepted now, and it has fed the interest in text-based art.
Christopher Wools paintings a few stenciled words on a canvas now sell for millions. Last February, at a Christies auction in London, Wools painting Fool which consists of the word fool spelled out on a canvas sold for $7.8 million. Though it is housed in their private apartment, works from the Sackner Archive occasionally are shown at museums. Among them are pieces by Ian Hamilton Finlay, the Scottish artist and poet.
The Sackners have donated considerable Finlay work to MOCA. Later this month, some of that work will be shown as a complement to the exhibition Ed Ruscha: On the Road, which includes a Ruscha work that mixes text from Jack Kerouacs landmark Beat novel On the Road with iconic photos of the American West. Sackner says he is particularly impressed with UMs Special Collections Department, in the universitys Otto G. Richter Library on the Coral Gables campus. Holdings include work by such local artists as Tom Virgin and Martin Casuso as well as international artists Sam Winston, Raymond Pettibon the Organik Collective and Tina Flau. The collection also encompasses more than 2,000 zines artful small-circulation publications from Florida works donated by the Firefly Collective to international publications with the themes embracing political protest, feminism, music, gender, culture and niche topics like Dumpster diving, eraser collecting and TV-show fandom.
To Sackner, UM has another advantage. Many artists books collections are difficult to see. At UM, its all laid out and accessible to students and the public.
In Miami Beach, the Wolfsonian Library at the Wolfsonian-FIU includes the gems Languria lirica lyrical watermelon by Tullio DAlbisola, a 1935 artists book made entirely of steel and tin, and the circa-1927 Depero Futurista by Depero Fortunato, bound together with aluminum bolts.