The BMA recently received a grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts toward a new exhibition on artists’ books scheduled for the spring of 2017.
Artists’ books, according to a common definition, are “works of art in the form of a book.” The simplicity and broadness of this description encompasses works that are as multifarious, complex, and expressive as art in any other medium. By nature a collaborative project at the crossroads of bookmaking and art-making, the artist’s book brings artists together with writers, printers, and publishers in a melding of perspectives that can lead to exciting and unexpected outcomes.
The exhibition will feature a selection of approximately 120 artists’ books and related prints by Jasper Johns, Barbara Kruger, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others from the BMA’s superlative collection of late 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art. It will be the capstone of a two-part, collaborative project between the BMA and the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University that is funded in part by a grant to JHU from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This spring, Rena M. Hoisington, BMA Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, taught the course “Paper Museums: Exhibiting Artists’ Books at The Baltimore Museum of Art” for 11 undergraduates from JHU, Loyola University Maryland, and the Maryland Institute College of Art. The students met weekly in the BMA’s Samuel H. Kress Foundation Study Room of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, where they had the opportunity to work directly with the artists’ books. In addition to writing label texts and blog posts for these books, the students helped to determine the checklist and thematic organization of the exhibition. More than half the works they chose have never been exhibited before at the BMA.
With checklist in hand, Hoisington and her BMA colleagues can now move forward with more detailed planning of the exhibition itself. The generous funding from NEA and Mellon will help to defray the costs of the installation, digitization, and programming—all three of which are essential to creating a visually stimulating exhibition that will provide access to these rarely seen works while educating audiences about this important artistic medium.
One of the earliest books that will be included in this exhibition is Henri Rivière’s 1902 publication Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower, which was inspired by a series of color woodcuts entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by the 19th-century Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai. With this elegant publication, Rivière sought to equate the importance of the Eiffel Tower, a marvel of modern French industrial design completed in 1889, with the spiritual significance of Japan’s Mount Fuji. Rivière’s inventive compositions not only document the construction of the tower—based in part on photographs he took from within the heights of the structure itself—but also reveal its impact on the cityscape of Paris. In the same way that Hokusai had presented Mount Fuji, each page shows the Eiffel Tower from a different vantage point, in varying weather conditions and times of year.