The Artist Book Foundation: Reclaiming art books
Without some sort of reference point, you cannot appreciate what you don’t know to exist. You cannot be affected, confronted or enlightened. The history of something else is the narrative of another time, another person.
Art struggles in a popular sense because of this. The language of culture was transformed inexplicably in the aftermath of the second world war, with the anaesthetic of consumerism welcomed as an antidote to six years of deprivation and destruction.
The TV, the telephone and now the internet have slowly nudged art into the corner of the room. Art may be the elephant you can’t miss, but now these mediums are easily accessible through chic little portable status symbols, no-one ever looks up to see the real world.
And so, like actors, we exist in between roles. To converse, face to face, think and reflect, watch clouds drift by, that’s unscripted, the hard truth of life. Twitter updates, shopping online and posting pictures of nothing, that’s an Oscar movie.
All are novel inventions, useful and democratic, but like those living in the Brave New World, they act as a welcome sedative and thus their ability to nourish us in a meaningful way is all too limited. As the great twentieth century poet W.H. Auden remarked in Dyer’s Hand in 1962:
“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.”
Art, marginalised as it is, suffers from even greater cultural neglect in its various academic, journalistic and physical object offshoots. Art history and art criticism reaches an even smaller audience than art shows, and so it is that clever ideas composed with clever words occupy the diminishing minority.
Investment has dwindled in literature concerning the arts. Publishing isn’t the giant it once was and there is very little money to be made in these large and beautiful tomes, which are wonderfully put together with high quality materials. There is too small an audience to justify their production.
This is where the Artist Book Foundation comes in. Since 2011, the non-profit organisation has been seeking to readdress this sad state of affairs by giving knowledge the same immortality as a painting hanging in an established gallery. It “creates, shares and preserves artist books offering the richest visual presentations and most informed narratives of artists’ lives and work”.
The foundation funds itself through sales of books, as well as through donations and sponsorships (from individuals and organisations). Ten per cent of each print run is then reinvested into public, art and university libraries, helping institutions better preserve and increase their stock of books, monographs and catalogues.
Robert Hughes once said: “What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.”
In some ways, the Artist Book Foundation is reclaiming this displacement of art, and, as its founders explain, providing people with the ability to ‘see’ important exhibitions, past and present, despite never being there in person (because of distance and time). It is a “museum in print”.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art to your chosen destination anywhere in the world.