Authored by Kathryn Sullivan
On the surface, Multiple, Limited, Unique is an exhibition catalog, curated by Alexander Campos and consisting of a diverse range of books arts chosen from the permanent collection of the New York Center for Book Arts. At that, it is an excellent specimen, representing the oldest institution in this country dedicated to the art of the book and including a range of book forms (accordion, pop-up, scroll…) as well as manipulations of book-making techniques to create new forms of book art (sculpture, textiles and digital objects and more). But underneath this material description lies a rich resource connecting cultures, time-periods and individuals through the power of the book. Through my Academic Service-Learning project, I became connected to this non-profit institution and its mission. As part of the “Hidden Heritage Collection,” this book represents the Center’s role in:
Preserving the past through exploring traditional artistic practices and maintaining collections of Fine Arts, Reference and archival material;
Increasing access to cultural diversity by acting as model organization both locally and internationally and by promoting and exhibiting historical and contemporary artists from around the globe; and
Linking data across cultures by celebrating the culmination of a three- year Collections Initiative to digitize, re-house and catalog their collection to make it accessible online (i).
Founded in 1974, “The Center for Book Arts was created in a moment when utopian notions of egalitarianism were having their viral effect on the art world… Artists’ books became one of the symbolic gestures through which these utopian notions were realized,” writes Joanna Drucker in her catalog Essay, Artists’ Books and Conceptualism(s) (ii). The Center for Book Arts (CBA), embodied in the exhibition catalogue, Multiple, limited, unique, represents a cultural heritage organization of New York City, but about global communication, in the framework of past, present and future technologies. Exhibition curator Alexander Campos chose items from the permanent collection that demonstrate the evolution of the book as an art form. Some selections reflect “pre-Western traditional concepts of what the book is” while others “also shed light on new technology” (iii).
The exhibition itself celebrates the book as more than a vessel for its content, but rather as a channel for using visual literacy to re-negotiate meaning, both personal and societal. The artists’ book can be seen as a form of cultural capital and historical communication. Amanda Clark, in her thesis The handmade artists’ book: Space, materiality, and the dynamics of communication in book arts, views the format of the book as a humanizing art medium and “emphasizes viewer interaction with handmade artists’ books as an intimate experience bound by time and space, an experience laden with cultural information and social knowledge” (iv). Camden Richards takes this notion further by positing that “if an artist’s book can access or inspire a viewer’s deep well of memory and personal experience in nature, coupled with a clear sense of urgency or call to action, and is circulated and displayed in museums, local libraries and community centers, then it has the power to move the viewer to do something” (v).
Through its careful selection and description of book arts, as well as the Center’s history of fostering the craft, Multiple, limited, unique presents an invitation to participate in this experience and deepen one’s own visual literacy. Director Alexander Campos, believes that this catalogue is unique “because it demonstrates a holding that is unique in its diversity and broadness of what can be considered book arts” (vi). As a repository and exhibitor of these objects, the Center for Book Arts works to preserve the past, make room for the future and connect cultures.
With the culmination of their grant-funded Collections Initiative (celebrated with the exhibition and catalogue Multiple, Limited, Unique), CBA assumes the important role of digital librarian. Amanda Clark argued for viewing handmade artists’ books “as dynamic vessels of cultural communication and social transcripts worthy of collection in libraries and archives” (vii). Elizabeth Lenaghan notes that despite the historical roots of traditional book-making, “new technologies play a surprising and significant role for collectors by helping them preserve and expand their traditional evaluations of books as rare and sacred cultural objects” (viii). The Center for Book Arts has long embraced these egalitarian ideas and is now able to disseminate its collection data on the World Wide Web.
i) Alexander Campos. 2011. Multiple, Limited, Unique. New York: Center for Book Arts, 18
ii) Joanna Drucker. 2011. Introduction to Multiple, Limited, Unique by Alexander Campos. New York: Center for Book Arts, 18
iii) Campos. 2014. Conversation with the author, 25 March 2014.
iv) Amanda Clark. 2013. The handmade artists’ book: Space, materiality, and the dynamics of communication in book arts. Ph.D. diss., University of Alabama, ii
v) Camden Richards. 2011. Landscape and memory: The untapped power of artists’ books to effect social change. Ph.D. diss., Corcoran College of Art + Design, 2
vi) Campos, Conversation with the author, 25 March.
vii) Clark, 227
viii) Elizabeth Lenaghan. 2012. Print matters: Collecting physical books in a digital age. Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 5
Campos, Alexander. 2011. Multiple, Limited, Unique. New York: The Center for Book Arts
Camden, Richards. 2011. Landscape and Memory: The Untapped Power of Artists’ Books to Effect Social Change. PhD dissertation, Corcoran College of Art + Design.
Clark, Amanda Catherine Roth. 2013. The handmade artists’ book: Space, materiality, and the dynamics of communication in book arts. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Alabama.
Lenaghan, Elizabeth. 2012. Print matters: Collecting Physical Books in a Digital Age. Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University.
Link to copyright permission.