While ‘the artists’ book’ is increasingly prominent in special collections and archives, in art institutions and libraries, it remains a notoriously slippery object. The term itself can mean many different things, from monumental one-off book sculptures to ‘democratic multiples’, and from handmade ‘altered books’ to publishing as conceptual art practice. This course aims to orient students in this lively, fascinating but complex field. It looks at the artists’ book in the broadest sense, charting its evolution and critical history from the mid-twentieth century onward, following its various strands and examining the main figures and practices associated with it. Through site visits to some of London’s most significant collections, at the Chelsea Library and Tate Library and Archives, we will examine first-hand a wide variety of key works, while in classroom discussion of key texts, we will explore some of the central debates and themes in this field. What connects apparently disparate works like Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations (1963) with Brian Dettmer’s intricately carved books, or with Elisabeth Tonnard’s (possibly non-existent) Invisible Book (2012)?

There are many intriguing questions raised by the artists’ book: what kind of object is it, and what disciplinary perspectives and methodologies are needed for discussing and describing it? Where does it belong: on library shelves or in gallery display cases? How might it trouble our existing definitions and histories of the book? The module’s focus is not only on the conceptual issues raised by the artists’ book, however, but also on more practical matters. Through visiting expert speakers, we will explore the contexts in which artists’ books are made, published, sold and exhibited, as well as the current practices of bibliographic classification and cataloguing. The module will be of use to those who encounter artists’ books in the context of librarianship and curation. It will also be of interest to those who create or collect artists’ books, as well as those who simply want to understand them more deeply.

Additional Information

  • Bright, Betty, No Longer Innocent: Book Art in America 1960-1980 (New York: Granary Books, 2005) 
  • Bury, Stephen, The Book as a Work of Art 1963-2000 (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996) 
  • Drucker, Johanna, A Century of Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1995) 
  • Drucker, Johanna, Figuring the word: Essays on Books, Writing, and Visual Poetics (New York : Granary Books, 1998) 
  • Gilbert, Annette, Literature’s Elsewheres (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 2022) 
  • Gilbert, Annette (ed)., Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin : Sternberg Press, 2016) 
  • Hampton, Michael, Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the Artists’s Book (Axminster: Uniform Books, 2015) 
  • Klima, Stefan, Artists’ books: A Critical Study of the Literature (New York: Granary Books,  1998) 
  • Lippard, Lucy R., Six Years: the Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966-1972 (New York: Praeger, 1973) 
  • Lyons, Joan, Artists Books: A Critical Anthology and Source Book (New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985) 
  • Stewart, Garrett, Bookwork (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011)  
  • White, Tony, The (R)evolutionary Artist Book, Book 2.0 3, no. 2 (2013): 163–183 
  • Vanderlip,Dianne, ed. Artists Books (Philadelphia: Falcon Press/Moore College of Art, 1973) 
  • Philpott, Clive, Booktrek (JRP, Ringier & Les Presses Du Réel, 2013) 
  • Philpott, Clive, Books, bookworks, book objects, artists' books’(Artforum, 1982)
  • Royston, Anne M. Material Noise: Reading Theory As Artist's Book (Cambridge, MA.: MIT  Press, 2019) 
  • Borsuk, Amaranth, The Book (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 2018) 
  • Thoburn, Nicholas, Anti-Book: On the Art and Politics of Radical Publishing (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 2016) 
  • Arnar, Anna Sigridur "Reading’ the Book at Exhibitions of Contemporary Global Art” in Diedre Lynch and Alexandra Gillsepie, The Unfinished Book, (OUP, 2020) 
  • Marczewska, Kaja and Simon Morris, ‘Reading Matter’, in Simon Morris (ed)., Reading as Art  (Information as  Material, 2016) p36-53 
  • Morris, Simon and Vincent Bonin (editors), Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard Catherine and the Emergence of Conceptual Art (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 2012) 
  • Rothenberg, Jerome and Steven Clay, A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections about the Book and Writing (Granary Books: New York, 2000) 
  • Castleman, Riva, A Century of Artists’ Books (MOMA: New York, 1994)  
  • Moeglin-Delcroix, Anne, Looking, Telling, Thinking, Collecting: four directions of the artist's book from the sixties to the present (Edizioni Corraini, 2004) 


This course will take place in Senate House with visits to the Chelsea Library and Tate Library.

Course convenor