This collection of more than 2,000 Artists’ Books is one of the most comprehensive of its kind and the largest publicly accessible collection outside of London. We use the definition of an Artist’s Book as provided by the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS), 1987/9:
“a book or a book-like object in which an artist has a major input beyond illustration or authorship, where the final appearance of a book owes much to an artist’s interference/participation where a book is the manifestation of the artist’s creativity; where the book is a work of art in itself”
History of the Collection
Artists’ books have been collected at MMU since the 1970s when multiples were acquired as a result of the librarian’s book purchasing visits to galleries such as Nigel Greenwood in London. Greenwood provided an almost complete set of Dieter Roth’s Collected Works (in re-print) published by Hansjörg Mayer in the 1970s. Other pioneering multiples were purchased at the same time, including a number of books by Ed Ruscha. At first, the books were part of the lending stock and could be borrowed by students but they were eventually taken out of circulation and moved to Special Collections.
Scope and Content
The scope of the collection is from the late 1960s to the present day with a strong emphasis towards British artists. These books demonstrate the artist’s creative experimentation with the medium of the book, taking it beyond the traditional format of ink and paper. The collection includes examples of multiples, conceptual works, structural books, sequential books, narrative books, and books as verbal or visual explorations.
The broad concept of artists’ books means that the collecting criteria has to be quite fluid. New ideas, innovative structures or specific topics of interest to our students provide some of the features to look out for. Books might also be collected for their humour, political and environmental awareness, imaginative use of text and image, or the expression of language through concrete poetry. All categories of artists’ books are collected.
The strengths of the collection lie in its comprehensive chronological coverage and in its representation of the wide variety of forms within the genre. Both of these offer research potential into the history and development of the modern artist’s book from the 1960s to date. More defined strands within the collection open up further research possibilities; these include photo books, concrete poetry, conceptual books, paper engineering and books that explore landscape, narrative and sequence. The collection could also support research into the work of individual artists and the output of particular presses that are especially well represented, both historical and contemporary.
The Artists’ Books Collection is held in our Reading Room on open access shelving. No appointment is necessary to view this collection. Books may be taken from the shelves and viewed at the tables. Readers are asked to wear non-allergenic gloves when viewing the Artists’ Books.
Photography is only permitted for the purposes of research or private study. All items within the Artists’ Book Collection remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder’s permission for reproduction of copyright for purposes other than research or private study.
The collection can be searched on the MMU Library catalogue under the name of the artist or more generally by a keyword search for ‘Artists book’.
Smith, G. (1993) Artists’ books: a catalogue of the collection. Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University Library.