Off the Shelf is literally taking down from the stacks, out of the vault,
and off of the shelf a sampling of the finest contemporary artists' books in
the collections of the Clark Art Institute Library, The Williams College
Museum of Art, and Chapin Rare Book Library. The books in the show represent
some of the most recent acquisitions as well as the most visually and
conceptually creative works in each of the three collections - they
exemplify some of the most interesting trends in bookmaking today.
All of the books in Off the Shelf were created between 1985 and 2000. Among
the well-known book-artists featured are Angela Lorenz, Richard Tuttle,
Gunnar Kaldewey, Johanna Drucker, and Philip Zimmermann. Also, many of the
books are by well-known contemporary artists who work in a variety of media
in addition to bookmaking. These include Amalia Mesa-Bains, Kiki Smith, and
Three sub-themes are woven throughout the exhibition. The first theme is
science - in connection with Unnatural Science - the main show on view
concurrently in the MASS MoCA galleries. The next is travel - the book's
ability to lead one on an internal creative voyage as well as a journey to
distant lands. The final theme looks at the book as an installation, an
exhibition, and a stage.
While the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute is renowned for its
collection of Old Master and 19th century European and American paintings,
the Clark Library's holdings of contemporary artists' books are virtually
unknown to the public. Actively collected since the 1970's, there are at
present over 500 works which have rarely been seen. The library's core
collection has been gathered with the idea of promoting and preserving
multiple-edition, inexpensively fabricated books by conceptual artists. Over
the past 30 years, these books have become an integral part of the Clark
Library's holdings of literature about contemporary art - the book format is
often used by artists to make statements about historical representation and
museum display practices. Fine-press and limited-edition books from the
collection have provided the basis for the Off the Shelf exhibition.
Primarily associated with older rare books and historical documents, the
Chapin Library at Williams College also has an impressive collection of
contemporary fine-press books. Typically, these books can be viewed in the
Library's several public exhibitions each year and are often included in
displays at the Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art.
The Chapin Library seeks to acquire distinguished artist's books from around
the world that combine significant texts with artistry of expression and
fabrication. This philosophy is well illustrated by its collection of
deluxe limited-edition books from Kaldewey Press in Poestenkill, New York.
The Williams College Museum of Art's teaching collection includes artworks
from all periods and cultures. Artist's books have been actively collected
at the Museum since the 1980s. These books are available to the public for
viewing by appointment and are often used in teaching - many of the books
collected dovetail with courses taught at the College. The museum often
displays books individually as part of other shows or lends them to outside
institutions. Some of the books by well-known contemporary artists were
made specifically for and in conjunction with exhibitions organized by WCMA.