WHAT IS AN ARTISTS' BOOK?

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Photo by Stephen Bloss

Printed Matter works to distribute and promote artists’ books to bring an increased visibility and appreciation to the field. The range of publications stocked at the shop is a testament to our broad and all-inclusive understanding of the medium.

Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right. These ‘projects for the page’ are generally inexpensive, often produced in large or open editions, and are democratically available.

The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be accessible to a multitude of people in different locations at any given time. The more copies produced the more widely the work can be distributed; it is this potential to reach a larger audience that lends the book its social qualities and increases it’s political possibilities. In this way, the artists’ book can be an incredibly powerful communicative force.

The simplicity of a book that is small in scale, costs relatively little to produce, and is easily replicable allows the work to flow outside of mainstream channels and reach an audience without institutional or commercial consent. The artists’ book offers a criticism of and alternative to these systems by circumventing them.

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that are common across the practice. Understanding a book as an artwork invites a reflection on the properties of the book form itself. Much like any act of reading, an artists’ book is a physical experience that allows a connection with the medium that – while social in its implications – is individual and personal. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visually or linguistically based (often a mix of both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The interplay of text and images, as well as considerations of printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.

The shelves of Printed Matter store are filled with these diverse publications, and the stock is rotating constantly. Our entire inventory is also publicly available through our online catalog on this website. The best way to get a sense of the medium is to browse!

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