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A Note on the Exhibition

Ever since the foundation of the codex format for the storage and transmittal of ideas, artists have been drawn to the book as a venue for exposition. With the development of the printed book, original artists' prints have appeared within the pages of books from Dürer to Picasso. While the tradition has remained strong, artists' interest in the book format has ebbed and flowed over time. Since the 1970s many artists, whatever the medium they work in, have turned increasingly to the book format, not simply as an opportunity to illustrate text, but as an alternate forum for artistic expression. The exhibition Contemporary Artists' Prints in Books, on view in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery October 22, 1994 to February 3, 1995, features fine-press publications from the past two decades that include original prints by contemporary artists. The exhibition draws its selections from Special Collections' superb holdings in fine-press publications and the book arts, highlighting individual artists through their works in books. These collections serve as a splendid resource for research, study, and teaching in art, visual communication, art history, the book arts, publishing history, and literature, and include the works of artists from around the world, as well as those by University of Delaware faculty and graduates. The prints in the exhibition demonstrate the range of styles, media, and techniques used with the printed word, the writer's text, and the magically revealing quality of the turned page, including etchings, engravings, woodcuts, wood engravings, linocuts, silkscreen prints, lithographs, aquatints, monoprints, computer graphics, and letterpress prints.

The book format as a medium of expression offers the artist several intriguing opportunities, including access to a wider potential audience, the prospect of working in a non-traditional visual space, the ability to make one's work more accessible to and interactive for the viewer, the possibilities of developing context and relationships to one's work through text, and an occasion for collaborating with writers, printers, typographers, book designers, binders, and other artists. Contemporary Artists' Prints in Books reveals the variety of relationships that artists have formed with the book format. Some artists make occasional forays into the medium of the book format, such as Robert Motherwell, Jasper Johns, and Robert Ryman. Others make more extensive use of the book as an outlet for their work, such as Mark Beard, Jim Dine, Gaylord Schanilec, and John DePol. Still others make use of the book format as their principle artistic forum and are deeply involved with all aspects of book production, for example Leonard Baskin and his Gehenna Press; Ronald King and his Circle Press; Barry Moser and his Pennyroyal Press; Claire Van Vliet and her Janus Press.

Some artists maintain relationships with the book format through collaborative efforts with authors and other artists. Examples of this include Leonard Baskin's many works with Ted Hughes, such as A Primer of Birds; the collaboration between Felim Egan and Seamus Heaney on Squarings: Twelve Poems; and the collaborative effort of Barbara Kruger and Stephen King in the Whitney Museum's publication of My Pretty Pony. Many artists have been drawn to the book through commissions and the patronage of fine press publishers such as the Arion Press (San Francisco), the Circle Press (Guildford and London), the Iowa Center for the Book Arts (Iowa City), the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts (Minneapolis), and the Yolla Bolly Press (Covelo, Calif.).

Contemporary Artists' Prints in Books also features several works by University of Delaware faculty and graduates. Included are the prints of University of Delaware art faculty members Martha Carothers and Norman Sasowsky, and University of Delaware graduate David Moyer. Also included are the writings of University of Delaware faculty members Fleda Jackson (in collaboration with Norman Sasowsky in The Eleusinian Mysteries Ms. Newark, Del.: The Moment Press, 1992) and W. D. Snodgrass (in collaboration with the etchings of DeLoss McGraw in W. D.'s Midnight Carnival. San Diego: Brighton Press, 1990), and University of Delaware graduate Carmine Chickadel (in collaboration with the computer graphics of Dennis Evans in The Seven Deadly Sins. Seattle: Neo-Vatikan Press, 1991).

Although international in scope, the exhibition is necessarily focussed to include only original artists' prints in works published after 1969. This limitation excludes the many artists' books, original drawings, paintings, constructions, collages, paperwork, and magnificent offset reproductions of artists' work to be found in the fine-press and book-arts collections of the Special Collections Department. Also excluded are examples of original artists' prints in books published prior to 1970, such as Pablo Picasso's etchings for the Limited Editions Club publication of Aristophanes's Lysistrata (New York, 1934), or Robert Indiana's silkscreen prints for Robert Creeley's Numbers (Stuttgart, 1968).

The exhibition and its accompanying catalog are organized alphabetically by artist. The checklist includes bibliographic entries, with the artist's nationality, birth and death dates (when known), and the printing technique used. Contemporary Artists' Prints in Books celebrates the contributions that artists have made to the book arts in the past two and a half decades, and commemorates the long tradition of artistic involvement in developing the book as a medium of expression. The materials on display are visually rich and artistically diverse, revealing a unique aspect of Special Collections Department's fine press and book arts collections, and demonstrating their potential for research and teaching use.

Gary E. Yela
Associate Librarian
Special Collections Department

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Last modified: 12/21/10
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