At a time when paperbacks seem to crumble and disappear almost over night, The Book as Art: Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts is a real gem. Beautifully designed and published in 2007 by Princeton Architectural Press for NMWA in Washington, D.C., it marked the occasion of the museum’s 20th anniversary. The volume highlights one of the finest collections of artists’ books in the world, containing over 800 unique and limited-edition volumes by women artists both renowned and newly discovered. The collection was assembled over 20 years by Krystyna Wasserman, director of the museum’s Library and Research Center from 1982 to 2002 and current curator of book arts.
The Book as Art introduces readers to the rich variety of form, content, and artistic media that characterize artists’ books. Topics range from family history to poetry and politics, familiar tales to wild fantasies. For example, a performance artist tells a “glove story” in which hands pop up. An environmentalist writes on delicate sheafs of birds’ wings. A faux box of candies holds “pages” full of social commentary that’s not so sweet. Bindings are humble or elaborately crafted in wood, metal and stone. Etchings, woodcuts, and letter-press text decorate some pages. Other pages of handmade paper are sumptuously painted. There are even pages made of smashed tin cans and bottle tops. Due to the intimacy of scale, emphasis on narrative, and frequency of collaborative effort, artists’ books are most often the domain of talented women artists. And this compliation of “book introductions” demonstrates the extent to which women are responsible for works of the highest creative order.
Review by WCA Charleston Member, Lillian Trettin