Featured Special Collection: Hidden Gems

Building a contemporary artists' book collection

Photo: L. Barry Hetherington

Peter & Donna Thomas, The Actual Accordion Book (2014) / The Pencil (2010). Walter Hamady, Hunkering : the last gæbberjab²⁹⁶ number eight and IX/XVIths, or, Aleatory annexations (2005). Thomas Parker Williams, Traveler No. 1 (2012). Photo: L. Barry Hetherington

MIT’s Rotch Library is home to a small but growing collection of contemporary artists’ books — a type of art object that defies simple definition and embraces many forms. Some artists’ books resemble traditional books, while others use the printed book as a starting point. A search for “artists’ books” uncovers books about making books, the history of the book, and some actual artists’ books. Many artists’ books are clever, some are funny, others are somber, but all invite engagement through some form of physical manipulation.

The Rotch collection focuses on artists’ books published from the 20th century through the present, and is deliberately interdisciplinary, reflecting the interests and mission of the Institute. The collection explores key areas such as the technology of the printed book (construction, type, interactivity, portability); the connection between research and making; the ways in which art and science methodologies and techniques can inform and influence one another; and the relationship between digital and analog technologies.

Future additions to the Rotch collection will include explorations in experimental bookmaking, printmaking, graphic design, technology, and contemporary print culture.

In the coming year, MIT Libraries plan to raise the visibility and use of these artists’ books. The collection will undergo a thorough audit, and new Rotch Library display cases will make these unusual and often hidden gems accessible for viewing and experiencing.