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Study Centre (CED), Level 0

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Sampler #3. Anti-books is the third in a series of shows produced by the MACBA Study Centre to promote its collections and documentary holdings. On this occasion, the focus is on a selection of artists’ books from the 1960s and 1970s taken from the more than 4,000 artists’ books in the MACBA Archive influenced by conceptual and minimalist movements.

The exhibition shines the spotlight on work by three artists. German artist Hanne Darboven created numerical series to describe the passage of time. These series were the result of complex mathematical operations based on calendar periods (days, months and years). Sol LeWitt saw books as an excellent form of artistic expression for his work and created an extensive collection of books over the course of his life. The sequencing of pages let him progressively develop his concepts, either through evolving geometric drawings or by creating chromatic variations on a given theme. Finally, although Dieter Roth was best known for his work based on the use of organic materials that degrade over time, some of his pieces from the 1970s centre on forms of expression of the minimalist movement such as combining geometric forms with primary colours, black and white, and in other cases he even added transparencies or cut-out figures to add depth to pages.

In addition, Sampler #3. Anti-books presents books by John Baldessari, Robert Barry, stanley brouwn, Chuck Close, Agnes Denes, Peter Downsbrough, Jackie Ferrara, Marco Gastini, Robert Jack, Richard Kostelanetz, Bruce Nauman, Edda Renouf and Fred Sandback.

Curated by: Estel Fabregat

Photo: Artist's books by Sol Lewitt and Dieter Roth. MACBA Collection. Centre d'Estudis i Documentació MACBA.

Artists’ books have been around as an expression of artistic language since the 19th century, but it was only in the 1960s that a number of artists began to regard them as artworks in themselves. In his 1978 essay “Book Art”, art critic Richard Kostelanetz used the terms antibook and nonbook to refer to contemporary artists’ books. This artistic option was in keeping with the conceptual movements of the time, which aimed to make access to art more democratic and to dematerialise artworks, as well as to demystify works of art as unique, one-off pieces. The increased print runs and reduced costs offered by industrial processes brought books to a far wider audience.

In addition, the sequence of movements involved in turning the pages of a book gave artists the opportunity to explore geometric and colour series, creating variations and combinations of geometric forms and colour palettes. Others developed numerical series using mathematical calculations or musical notations inspired by the notion of time inherent to page turning. There were also more conceptual approaches, where artists experimented with distances and positions in space.

The characteristics of this format, that is, the need for readers to have direct physical interactions with the artwork, are an added difficulty when it comes to displaying artists’ books. Conventional resources at exhibition spaces (display cases, plinths, frames, etc.) fall short in this regard. Keen not to turn books into sculptures, here we have used other resources, such as making facsimiles and hanging copies of pages on the gallery walls—thereby giving readers a sense of the linear flow of the book by rethinking the book’s original order and rhythm—as well as visualising works by means of digital devices that recreate the experience of turning the pages of a book.

I believe an artwork should leave the viewer perplexed, make him reflect on the meaning of life
Antoni Tàpies