Sequence 1 - Dutch artist's books in international perspective

opening March 12 2015

Curating and organising (i.c.w. Henk Woudsma and Barthold Boksum).

Exhibition and publication of artist's books of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Bas Jan Ader, Mel Bochner, Allan Kaprow, Seth Siegelaub, Marcel Broodthears, Anouk Kruithof, Ruth van Beek, Marieken Wessels, Luuk Wilmering, Melanie Bonajo, Ronald van Tienhoven and Laurence Aėgerter and many more.

Introduction in publication:

I know an artist's book when I see one

This thought seems to be the result of a quest through two collections on the search for a common denominator in all these artist's publications.

For this exhibition of artist's books, we drew from the collections of private collector Henk Woudsma and the Groninger Museum. Both have their own distinguished character and are, by definition, incomplete. Both collections agree on one key aspect: their starting point is conceptual art from the 1960s and 80s. The collection of the Groninger Museum is limited to the period 1960-1980, an era in which the artist's book was reinvented, and a foundation was laid for a new canon of the artist's book. Woudsma's collection is largely focused on the Dutch artist's book and runs until the present day.

Many criteria have been applied to this fluid genre. A large edition or unique copies? A bound book or loose-leaf? Should it contain text written by others? This is what you get with the conjunction of artist and book. One has a foot in the art world, the other in the library. This exhibition shows that the artist's book is rather immune to definitions, however it is very recognizable.

Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 70s had their own agenda with the artist's book. It had to be withdrawn from established categories and a certain idiom. It had to be flexible, with an unpredictable status, thereby escaping commerce and a fixed-market rate. The latter ideal was untenable, though another one kept better: the many definitions standing in each other's way is proof of the continued influence of the artist's book's unfathomable status. This exhibition brings to the fore that artist's books keep protecting themselves against problems of definition.

Artist's books of the 1960s and 70s often stood diametrically opposed to the dominant conceptions of the arts of their time. No balanced series of images, but assembled according to apparent capriciousness and laws that before were not considered part of the domain of arts, as, for example, the structure of an archive. No high-quality photography but snapshots, often of trivial subject matter and poor quality. It's not the artistic maxim of 'the decisive moment' that is important, but sequences of images in which each moment is equal to the previous or the next image. "A collection of facts," said Edward Ruscha about the photos in his artist's book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963)

Although it is still marked by the acquired freedom of the 1960 and 70s, Woudsma's collection displays a more varied picture, more colourful, sometimes tastier, and of undeniably high quality in terms of photography, choice of papers, and workmanship.

There is much to say though, for the characteristics of the artist's book: it can lie around and find its way outside of the art world. Certainly, in a period in which the role of art in the world is being reconsidered, the artist's book will gain importance.

At the moment the qualities of a book correspond with the concept, one can speak of an artist's book. The artist's book offers the unique possibility of looking and touching at the same time. It always requires an act, like holding the book or turning the pages. First and foremost, the artist's book refers to itself - she is not a carrier of images but rather itself an image.

Rein Jelle Terpstra

Rein Jelle Terpstra, Henk Woudsma and Barthold Boksum
production and essay in publication:
Rein Jelle Terpstra
key note speaker: Johan Deumens
Taco Hidde Bakker
Koepelzaal of Academie Minerva, Hanze Hogeschool Groningen (NL).
The exhibition is part of a special Minerva-workshop about the production of artist's books.