UI Libraries’ Artists’ Books Exhibited at Drake University

A group of more than 30 artists’ books from The University of Iowa Libraries’ collection will be exhibited from September 11th through October 9th in the Anderson Gallery at Drake University, Des Moines.  The exhibition, “The Book in Time & Place,” was curated by alumnus Sarah McCoy and Julie Leonard from the staff of The University of Iowa Center for the Book will offer a guest lecture in the Fine Art Center at Drake on September 9th.

Most of the loaned books were displayed in Old Cap during this past January, but several additional books were included in the loan, notably several items from the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books.  Included in the exhibit are books printed on hand-set type and printed by hand on fine papers.  Some are illustrated with images created in various techniques, including etchings, engravings, woodblocks, and lithographs. Apart from their artistic quality, many of the books look like conventional books, albeit more carefully made, but others play with the idea of “bookness” and have been created to express an artist’s statement.  One small “book,” for example, collects images of belly buttons from well-known classical paintings; it is, course, bound in a pair of buttons.  Another, a meditation on make-up and self-image, is printed on accordion-folded paper and bound into a cheap plastic compact which in turn resides in a glittering purse.

“Artists’ books are typically produced in only a few copies – even 50 copies is a large edition,” said Sid Huttner, head of Special Collections & University Archives at The University of Iowa, “and consequently few people have experienced them.  It also takes considerable effort to select and mount an exhibition, so we were delighted to have Drake propose a display of books in Des Moines that could build on one earlier seen in Iowa City.”

The University of Iowa has a long tradition of teaching and supporting fine printing and book arts, and the Libraries has assembled over many years a collection that documents books design and construction from the 15th century to the present in great depth.  Artists’ books are a fairly new genre, developing largely in the 1970s, and the Libraries collects examples of current work that support academic programs in Art & Art History, Art Education, and The Center for the Book.

“As Google digitizes its way through libraries here and abroad, and the Kindle is said to be about to replace paper and ink entirely, it is perhaps surprising how many artists are finding they can best communicate their artistic vision via book formats,“ said Huttner. “But this is a vigorous, lively, enchanting corner of the contemporary art community.”