BOOK AS ARTWORK 1960/1972, by Germano Celant

book as artwork image

Celant, Germano. 
Book as Artwork 1960/1972. 
Brooklyn, NY: 6 Decades, 2010. 
New edition of 800 copies; 104 pages.
[new edition now out-of-print]. 
[PDF download]

Originally published in 1972 by the Nigel Greenwood Gallery, Book as Artwork 1960/1972 was the first catalogue devoted to the then new medium of the artist’s book and it remains a canonical reference (though one that, due to its scarcity, is not as well known as it should be). This publication started as an article and a list of about 80 artists' books which appeared in 1970 in the first issue of the Italian magazine Arte. Not long after it was translated and published in Data magazine. Then in 1972 the Nigel Greenwood Gallery in London mounted an exhibition of artists' books and issued a catalogue with a greatly expanded bibliography (now nearly 300 titles) compiled by Lynda Morris. The exhibition was the first of its kind and the catalogue a genuinely historic publication. 

Grounded in the media studies of Marshall McLuhan and philosophical writings of Herbert Marcuse, Celant's analysis of the medium has the feeling of a definitive statement. He lays out exactly what makes the medium important while noting the historical trends and key individuals that led to its rapid development after 1960. Significantly, the history Celant wrote in 1972 is much broader than the overly simplistic Dieter-Rot-in-Europe-and-Ruscha-in-America origin myth of the artist’s book that has gained currency since. Besides Ruscha and  Rot, Celant’s text emphasizes the early influence of John Cage but he also encompasses into the narrative such disparate or overlooked elements as the Zaj group in Spain and Arte Povera in Italy, as well as work related to Fluxus, Art & Language, Land Art, Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, etc. The bibliography includes books that range from the iconic to the virtually unknown by Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Alison Knowles, Richard Hamilton, Piero Manzoni, Joseph Kosuth, John Latham, Andy Warhol, Bob Law, Yoko Ono, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Henry Flynt, Hanne Darboven, Dan Graham, Dick Higgins, Joel Fisher, Athena Tacha, John Stezaker, Gianfranco Baruchello, Jose Luis Castillejo, Sol Lewitt, Robert Morris, Stanley Brouwn, Edouardo Paolozzi, Bruce Nauman and Bruce McLean, to name just a few of the artists whose work is cited. 

With this new edition it is possible to regain the perspective of 1972. It was a period when, as Celant describes it, the “the rules used for the identification of the art object were destroyed” and thus “medium became significant in itself.” Artists’ books were emblematic of the new multidisciplinary approach taken by the era’s avant-garde and, as that approach continues to be the predominant mode among artists working today, it is increasingly clear that artists' books have been, and continue to be, integral to the practice of art in the contemporary era. 

100,000 Minutes by James Lee Byars

Byars, 100,000, spine
Byars, interior

Byars, James Lee. 100,000 Minutes, or the Big Sample of Byars, or ½ an Autobiography, or the First Paper of Philosophy. Antwerp: Galerie Anny De Decker, 1969.

4to.; mimeograph on pink paper; wrappers. Very good. Lightly soiled in a few spots with two small abrasions on the top panel; but altogether a handsome copy of a very fragile book.

First edition; one of 250 copies.

Byars is an artist who defies categorization; there are elements of minimalism, Fluxus, and conceptualism in his work, but the influence of Zen gardens and the Japanese tea ceremony is also discernible (with, as Dave Hickey has pointed out, a dash of Vegas-y, late-Elvis, over-the-top Americana thrown in as well). However odd the mixture, Byars has an undeniable ability to invest certain signature materials (gold leaf, rose petals or, as in this book, smooth pink paper) with metaphorical resonance and in this way he is part of a small but distinct group who might be thought of as contemporary art’s shamanistic practitioners. Like his good friend Joseph Beuys, his contemporary Yayoi Kusama and more recently Matthew Barney and Terence Koh, Byars’ multidisciplinary practice encompassed everything from sculpture to performance to the creation of books. This artists’ book, which accompanied an exhibition of work at Wide White Space in Antwerp, is a touchstone work for him. It consists of a series of handwritten notes, questions, propositions, and declarations all reproduced in mimeograph and, like so many of Byars’ gold spheres, balls of bread, or wooden constructions, declared to be a self-portrait.


A Novel by Andy Warhol

Warhol, Andy. A. A Novel by Andy Warhol. New York: Grove Press, 1968.

8vo.; black cloth stamped in white; illustrated dust-jacket. Fine.                                                                                                                   
First edition, first printing. The “A” stands for amphetamine, as this novel is the story of the A-men. A is an un-edited transcript of non-stop talk recorded in 1965 over the course of 24 hours spent in the company of Ondine, a brilliant talker and "Pope" of the amphetamine scene that coalesced around Warhol in the Silver Factory years.  Brigid Berlin (The Duchess), Billy Name, Rotten Rita (The Mayor) and many others make appearances throughout the long day and night of chemically-fuelled chatter, argument, insult, and anecdote. All of this, recorded and transcribed, became Warhol's intentionally boring, bad, unreadable “novel” which, no surprise, wasn’t well received by literary critics. Times critic Sally Beauman panned it, writing, “it’s frightening to think one can be bored by this sort of willful self-destruction, but one can.” As for the characters, “they lose all identity, they all sound alike, they evoke nothing, not even compassion.” Exactly. It is uninflected and non-expressive, a machine-made novel, not written but simply recorded. Warhol had abandoned usual definitions of artistry and instead identified totally with the processes of contemporary media; that coldness was the point. A may well be a bad, boring and unreadable novel, but it is a masterpiece of Pop art nonetheless. This copy is in near perfect condition.