This is the new Spaceheater Editions title Vergangenheitsbewältigung by Gladys Garcia (Coming November 2016)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Wikipedia and the Subject of Artists' Books

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a comment on the Facebook group Book Arts Collective. I wrote that it was fascinating how the Wikipedia entry for artists' books changes all the time. Early entries (14 or 15 years ago) for this listing were laughable and very partisan, and often one could tell who was making the edits, with their own names prominently emphasized. It continues to evolve. Often one sees very specific events or book exhibitions which are given high importance. Huge areas of activity are sometimes ignored but may turn up 6 months later, to later disappear again. 

I suspect that the current entry was written in large part by Clive Phillpot (it is oddly UK-centric with spellings like "programme") but several other editors are obviously contributing as well. Clive is a great librarian, critic, and bookart historian but has a very particular point of view. (I served on the Printed Matter Board of Trustees with him in the nineties.) The current Wikipedia entry is far better than it was ten years ago, but the contemporary entries are highly defective and there are gaping holes. Coverage of European bookart and the field before the seventies has improved considerably. Many of the artists listed (and there are tons of them) are not that significant to the field or have made only a few books. Yet Michael Snow's Cover to Cover, arguably one of the most influential and important artists' books of the 20th century is not even mentioned. 

There is no mention whatsoever of Ulises Carrión and his famous manifesto The New Art of Making Books. And photobooks, artists' photobooks, not monographs, are not brought up or discussed.

In the Wikipedia listing, check out the very long paragraph(s) about the show in Richmond (another place that is lop-sidedly overrepresented) called Art ex Libris: The National Book Art Invitational at Artspace. Although there are important exceptions like Scott McCarney and a few others, most of the artists listed there are one-shot-wonders. Many important figures like Julie Chen, Barb Tetenbaum, Keith Smith, Clif Meador, Maureen Cumming, Roni Horn, Sally Alatalo, Francois Deschamps, Tate Shaw, and many more, are not mentioned anywhere on Wikipedia. And there have been many shows more important than that one in Richmond, with no mention.

Of course everyone has a bias, and I am not exempt. But the fact that Visual Studies Workshop Press, and Nexus Press, two of the most important producers of artists' books in the seventies and eighties are not mentioned is ridiculous. Another area that is not properly covered is the artists' photo-bookwork. They do mention Robert Frank and Ed Ruscha, but this is an area that has had a lot activity in the past 20 years and is not even mentioned. Much of the bookart world is strangely letterpress-centric and craft oriented. There needs to be much more awareness of photo-based and conceptually-based books in the traditional artists' book world. Conversely, the photobook world is pretty naive (on the whole) about the potential of the book form. There are of course strong exceptions like Cristina de Middel, Christian Patterson, Paul Graham, and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. 

Kate Palmer Albers has scolded me (nicely) about not becoming a Wikipedia editor and urged me to start making some changes in the Wikipedia entry on artists books rather than just complaining. I have heard horror stories about people taking a lot of time to make suggested changes and then all of the changes just disappearing overnight. But I am going to try to do something later this summer, after the VSW Photo-bookworks Symposium is over at the end of June.