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The Artist Turns to the Book At the Getty Center, May 24-September 11, 2005

April 18, 2005

LOS ANGELES—Artists’ books appeared as a new art form in the 20th century.  With innovative combinations of images, text, and even sounds presented and packaged in imaginative ways, these often self-published creations played a key role in many avant-garde movements and continue to influence contemporary art today.  The still-evolving phenomenon will be explored in the new exhibition The Artist Turns to the Book, on view May 24–September 11, 2005, at the Getty Center.

The exhibition calls attention to the increasing number of artists that are turning from other media to experiment with the book format.  Over 25 recently published artists’ books will be featured, out of some 4,000 examples held in the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (GRI).  The display includes artist Ed Ruscha’s recent work, published in 2002, as well as his first conceptual book, produced in 1967. 

The artists’ books on view showcase current work being done and reveal some new developments in the medium—these artists play with images and text, concentrate on images alone, or avoid images and use words as graphic elements.  They incorporate poems, etchings, photographs, and even objects as diverse as bark, dress fabric, and vinyl records.  Some creations are designed to fan out accordion-style or unfold into three-dimensional forms.  Others are housed in elaborately decorated boxes, or are filled with cut outs or colorful pop-ups that invite readers to interact with the work.  Inside, the messages they carry can be hidden or conceptual, forceful or even strident, intensely personal or strongly political.

The exhibition also features several recent acquisitions including Raymond Pettibon’s Faster, Jim (2003) which, in its subject of travel, includes a reference to Ruscha’s work with Todd Squires’ color photograph Highway 1; and A Couple of Ways of Doing Something (2003), which combines life-sized photographs of artists by Chuck Close with poetry by Bob Holman, reflecting the style of each person portrayed in the book.  Another new addition to the GRI’s holdings is Sophie Calle’s Los Angeles (2002) which features portraits of well-known Angelenos shown with each person’s response to a single tongue-in-cheek question:  "Since L.A. is literally the city of the angels, where are the angels?"  With its soft pink leather cover and large shiny metal clasps, Calle’s view of Los Angeles is many things: beautiful, soft, beckoning, hard-edged, shiny, plastic, elusive. 

Some artists’ books are individual expressions with highly personal and introspective feelings.  Susan Elizabeth King’s Redressing the Sixties: (art) Lessons à la mode (2001) uses fabric swatches from discarded clothes to enhance her evocative stories about her experiences in the sixties, from the dresses she wore to the words from films that inspired her during her youth.  In a poignant work dedicated to the memory of their lost son, the husband-and-wife artistic team of Anne and Patrick Poirier created Poirier Le voyageur endormi (2004) using mementos and writings left in the young man’s room. 

Book artists sometimes incorporate overt political messages or hidden social commentary using pop-ups and colorful pages to draw us into their point of view.  Julie Chen’s The Veil (2002) explores the condition of women’s lives in the contemporary Middle East with intricately cut pages that offer her disquieting commentary on politics, with its loudest statement perhaps made in the object’s form—out of the box, the book becomes a standing sculpture in the ovoid shape of a head.  Lois Morrison also wraps her dark political message in a colorful format.  Her book, Mexican Dog-tosser (1995), is housed in a Mexican bandana with pop-ups and 
features the tosser of dead dogs, a moveable figure that she invites viewers to place in any of the slots along the accordion book.

The Research Library at the Getty Research Institute is one of the largest art libraries in the world.  At its core are special collections of important primary source material such as original documents, personal notes and letters, prints, photographs, sketchbooks, and over 4,000 examples of artists’ books and several archives from a selected group of collectors, artists, and printers related to the making of artists’ books.  These include the archives of the Jean Brown Collection, Coracle Press, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Turkey Press, Walter Hamady, and Carolee Schneeman. 

Artists' Books Conference
May 21–24, 2005
This four-day conference, organized by the Southern California Chapter of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS), is planned for all who create, collect, catalog, conserve, or simply appreciate those special works of art known as artists' books.  Seminars, workshops, and panels will cover topics such as the history of artists' books; a look at emerging Los Angeles artists; current trends in cataloging artists' books; access and preservation issues; and facilitating the collecting of artists' books.  Each of the conference's four days will take place in a different venue in Los Angeles—Museum of Contemporary Art; Otis College of Art and Design; William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA; and the Getty Center. The last day of the conference will coincide with the opening of the exhibition The Artist Turns to the Book (May 24–September 11, 2005) at the Getty Center.  Fees and registration information is available at

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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