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Hidden Gems: Artists' Book Collections

The Department of Special Collections and Archives has a collection of over 500 artists' books, dating from the 1960s to the present. Most are published after 1990 and encompass nearly all aspects of the genre from "normal" published works to altered, sculptural, painted, and unique books. The Artists' Books collection has three major foci: works by and about women; works that explore contemporary American politics; and works produced in Latin American countries.

Artists' books emerged as a genre without a name in the 1960s, in the U.S. and Europe, as a definite part of the climate of political activism and social experimentation. The dematerialization of the art object was central to this movement, as was the new emphasis on the process of art. Artists discovered that books could be artworks in and of themselves. Independent outlets for artists proliferated and independent art publishers were one of the new forums for expression and distribution. Many saw the book as a means of reaching a community outside of the art world itself. Conceptual artists recognized that the book could be systematically conceived and distributed.

As an example of works by Latin American artists, the collection "Yani Pecanins Artists' Books" (MS-M026) comprises eighteen artists' books created by Mexican artist Yani Pecanins. Most of the books are unique (i.e., the artist only made one copy) and incorporate found objects, such as washing boards, spools of thread, newspaper, needles, combs, plates, and clothing fragments. Most are three-dimensional constructs rather than book-like in nature. Many of her books tell stories about women's lives. Pecanins began creating artists' books in 1977, and she has exhibited her art throughout Mexico and the United States. In recent years, she has created art objects and installations that transcend the book format. The finding aid provides more details about each of the books in the Pecanins collection.

Steve MacLeod, Public Services Librarian in Special Collections & Archives, has worked with a number of faculty and lecturers in the last year to expose students in Studio Art classes to these works of art. He can be reached at smacleod@uci.edu or x44967.


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