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.
Its intended to be a tribute to the machine age, from the unusual binding to the typesetting, says chief librarian Frank Luca. As with many artists books, the poetic arrangement of the words is as important as the words themselves.
In Fort Lauderdale, Broward County Librarys Bienes Museum of the Modern Book: The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library includes some 15,000 items, among them artists books by such masters as famed Czech artist Vojtech Kubasta. (Just opened is an exhibition titled Around the World with the WPA
, highlighting artworks created by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration; among them is the 1941 Guide to Key West
, compiled by workers of the state of Floridas writers program.
Since 1997, the Bienes Museum, in conjunction with the Florida Center for the Book, has hosted the annual Florida Artists Book Prize Exhibition. Each year, the winning work is added to the museums collection. The 2011 winner, on display at the library, is Marie Mercanos Nevermore: FAQ to a Raven
, which unfolds like a concertina to the dimensions of a bird, echoing the flexible nature of time itself. In 2005, the Miami-based Rosemarie Chiarlone a longtime collaborator with poet Susan Weiner was a co-winner for her simple and elegantly beautiful piece Flying Solo
, in which Weiners words
Even though the co-pilot is so close
are formed with pinhole size punctures.
In Boca Raton, at Florida Atlantic Universitys Wimberly Library, the Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts is a bright, airy facility with a working Letterpress Studio; the 19th Century Wessel iron hand press alone is worth a visit. This summer, the Jaffe Center is presenting the family-friendly POP! Movable Books from the Arthur J. Williams Pop-Up Collection,
drawn from 425 pop-up books donated by Williams and displayed throughout the library. Among them is Harold Lentzs 1932 Pinocchio,
with pop-ups of the famed fibber in distress. Another interesting piece is Matthew Reinharts Star Wars: Pop Up Guide to the Galaxy
, with pop-up light sabers.
The Jaffe Center holds more than 6,000 works that span an astonishing range, from pieces by the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition (formed after the March 2007 bombing of Baghdads intellectual center) to the entire collection of the International Society of Copier Artists Quarterly, nearly 4,000 artists books created via Xerography. Much of their collection is easily accessible, and there are regular exhibitions on display. As with all artists books, the individual pieces make for a more intimate viewing experience than painting or sculpture. and artists books are tactile experiences, objects that can be picked up, slowly savored and actually felt. In an increasingly virtual world, theres something to be said for the simple act of touch.