Location: Winter Palace
Artists’ books as magical places of language: visual art and human communication are at the heart of the exhibition Between the Pages, running from 2 April to 25 May 2014 at the Winter Palace. Precious and rare works from the collection of Giovanni Aldobrandini, on show for the first time in Austria, invite visitors to venture through the history of the artist’s book in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The exhibits are all from Giovanni Aldobrandini’s private collection. Compiled over many years, the collection meticulously traces the history of this often little-known but important art form and includes fascinating, elaborately designed books by artists such as William Blake, Francisco de Goya, Pierre Bonnard, Oskar Kokoschka, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. Original lithographs and engravings in limited, numbered editions on Velin Arches or exquisite paper from Japan and China – originally as loose pages and later sumptuously combined into precious volumes – represent some of the most significant examples of publications from the major art movements in this genre.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the idea emerged that the illustrations on a book’s page should not just support the text but enter into an autonomous dialogue with it. Emanating from the artists’ city Paris, this was also thanks to innovative publishers and art dealers such as Ambroise Vollard, E. Tériade, and Iliazd. Thereafter painting and literature were regarded as two complementary sides of the same form of artistic expression. From Bonnard to Picasso, from Matisse to Maillol, painters who also worked as poets and writers, often knew each other and were in touch, created the first significant illustrated books in this genre. The exhibition Between the Pages at the Winter Palace meticulously traces the history of these artistic creations and presents fascinating glimpses into the story of the book as an art form as well as interesting details about the history of the techniques engraving, painting, graphic design and photography.
The emergence and development of artists’ books
The artist’s book arose out of the illustrated book that had centuries of tradition. This spanned from the incunabula of the fifteenth century to book illustrations in the nineteenth century by artists like Goya, Blake, Manet, and Delacroix. Later Art Nouveau and Art Déco illustrators contributed to refined, elegant volumes.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the artist’s book became a channel for modernism’s avant-garde and a place of experiment where painters, typographers, poets, and philosophers tried their hand at new artistic forms of reading. Stéphane Mallarmé’s long poem Le coup des dés, which covered ten double pages, represented both a foundation and milestone in this artistic genre, as did the typographical work of the founder of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. France’s great masters of painting, such as Henri Matisse, created the first artists’ books in the painters’ own language.
In the 1920s an ever-growing number of books were published, especially as part of avant-garde movements such as the Italian Futurists, Russian Constructivists and Suprematists, exponents of Bauhaus, German Expressionists and Dadaists. Books were regarded as media that could both provide a network of communication between artists and a way of bringing art to a wider public. As a result, the emphasis was not on publishing particularly luxurious, expensive works but on all manner of books, although these, too, frequently included original engravings and were published in limited editions.
Of these avant-garde movements it was Surrealism that focused most attention on the book as an art form. Artists like Man Ray used innovative designs and incorporated photographs to create very different forms of artistic expression. These books evolved into personal expressions of the artists. It was a medium that offered abundant possibilities to expand on their spectrum of designs and establish new visual codings. Painters, writers, and directors like Tristan Tzara, André Breton, René Char, and Jean Cocteau collaborated on a wide variety of book projects.
After the Second World War the center of modern art moved to America. Although artists’ books continued to be published in Europe, this art form was taken over by new American cultural movements, from Abstract Expressionism to Pop art, from Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly to Jim Dine.
In the 1960s, Pop art, Fluxus, Arte Povera, and especially Conceptual art added new impetus to the artist’s book. The Fluxus notion of utopia, of creating an art for everyone, highlighted the relevance of these printed works for the rapid dissemination of ideas and strategies.
Publications by artists like Ed Ruscha – today known as book arts – were appreciated for their original editorial concept and publishers gave artists free rein in their designs. Texts were often composed by the artists themselves, other materials were used in place of paper (object books), or photographic compositions transformed into photo books.
Contemporary artists, such as Antoni Tàpies or Joseph Beuys, have tackled this genre, too, and Anselm Kiefer has also often explored both the traditional and innovative form of the artist’s book. The spectrum of artists’ books thus covers Conceptual art and abstraction, Arte Povera and the trans-avant-garde, and continues into the present day.
Born in Rome on 14 March 1951, it was here that Giovanni Aldobrandini studied Philosophy; he then studied Sociology at Columbia University in New York. From 1979 to 1992 he was Professor of Comparative Political Science and British History at the LUISS University in Rome. Between 2001 and 2008 he was a lecturer at Rome’s Sapienza University in the Humanities and American History faculties, where he specialized in the history of pacifism and the welfare state, before gaining his Ph.D. in Political Theory from the LUISS University.
On a number of occasions he has been a visiting professor at international universities, including the renowned London School of Economics, the University of Cambridge, and the Aspen Institute Berlin. His research specialisms include Victorian Britain, the history of the welfare state and pacifism, addressing the theories and ideologies behind these topics. Giovanni Aldobrandini is currently teaching the “History of Political Thought” at the Free International University for Social Sciences (LUISS) in Rome.