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.