The problem of the display of artists’ books is a well-known and much discussed one. Briefly, the problem lies in the fact that books are meant to be handled and read, but art objects, traditionally, are not. So a very expensive and/or fragile book is displayed under glass, completely inaccessible, and the would-be reader becomes a viewer, having to be content with a single page spread. Ultimately, a reader-become-viewer is blocked from ever knowing the book.

A few solutions exist and have been implemented, ranging from acceptance of the glass case to the complete refusal of it, with the books always being shown for gallery visitors to handle. Other provisional solutions include the use of white gloves for reading, the creation of “display copies” (difficult for unique works), and/or limited, supervised reading time for the books in the show. It seems that at least 30% of the various calls for entries are for shows where the work is meant to be handled. But I see just as many books locked in glass coffins. Sometimes it seems that artists aren’t thinking about/dealing with this (fundamental) problem, that we simply acquiesce to whatever the terms of the show, usually set forth by the venue/curators.

But the point of this series of posts is not to go over all of those old arguments again. What I would like to think through is the various conditions of presentation/reception set in place by the traditional gallery, how those terms are complicated by the book, by book (or art) fairs, and to look at the possibility that galleries are not the best venue for showing artists’ books.


No comments: