Artists’ Books on Display at Bowdoin Library

BookART posterBookART, a new exhibit at the Hawthorne Longfellow Library, shows off Bowdoin College’s diverse collection of artists’ books.

The show includes works by artists from nearby and around the world. Individually, each book illustrates a unique creative approach; collectively, they demonstrate how vibrant and prolific this little known genre of artistic engagement has become.

Artists’ books emerged as an art form relatively recently, in the early 20th century. Early examples, typically cheaply made in small editions or as one-of-a-kinds, often defy traditional notions of what constitutes a book and communicate nonconformist, anti-establishment sentiments and disdain for traditional publishing.

These early works, which were influenced by such avant-garde movements as Dada, Fluxus and “Founds,” have been eclipsed in recent decades by books that promote less combative agendas, focusing instead on visual appeal and choice of materials. They tend to employ a more traditional graphic and textual vernacular. Taken generally, artists’ books have become more sophisticated, more complex, more elegant, more prolific and more expensive.

Artists’ books are intriguing, sometimes provocative, and always visually engaging, because they convey artistic expression outside the norms of traditional textual communication or illustration. They require us as “readers” to come to terms with the book’s meaning through the intimacy of handling and visual exploration — and by re-examining our own assumptions about how we communicate with one another.

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