ADDRESS TO THE OPENING OF ARTISTSí BOOKS IN THE GINSBERG COLLECTION AT THE JOHANNESBURG ART GALLERY
25TH AUGUST, 1996

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to welcome you all here this morning to what is really the launch of the book arts in South Africa.

In recent years the book arts have made great headway particularly in Europe and America with islands of activity in Australia and Canada. It is now time South Africa joined the world in this respect as in so many others.

The increasing popularity of the book arts is, I believe, largely due to its multifaceted nature which appeals to so many different disciplines.

Some of these are:

  • Fine artists especially those working in graphic media but also those using drawing, water-colour and paint.
  • Calligraphers and illustrators.
  • The design and advertising communities who are often surprised at the innovation shown by book artists.
  • The film community who are fascinated by the sequential or filmic nature of the book as a visual medium.
  • Authors, poets and propagandists (or as they are sometimes called 'agents for social change') who are increasingly using the book arts for the publication of smaller (and perhaps less commercial) editions.
  • Educators in literacy and the arts who have successfully used the book arts for their purposes.
  • And lastly, and most importantly, the art collectors who get marvellous value collecting in this field. To give you an example, with the hope of enticing the collectors among you, a book illustrated by Jim Dine with dozens of prints costs no more than a single Dine graphic. If any of you are feeling acquisitive, there are many South African artists out there making editioned books and awaiting your commissions. There are two new Artists? Books to be launched in the next few weeks. The marvellous new book from Artists? Press in Johannesburg (a copy of which is on exhibition today) and a new editioned water-colour book from Leigh Voight which has just been completed and was too late for our consideration for this show. Both are available at the shop.

Of the exhibition itself, I should like to say a few things.

Firstly: when you peruse the exhibition, some of you might be surprised at the broadly inclusive definition of the book we have adopted. I would like to assure you that, by international standards, all the objects you see here today fall within the category of the book arts. On international exhibitions, I have seen books made from bean sprouts, kinetic objects and even performance pieces, so, although you might not think so, we are well within the parameters of the book arts.

Secondly: the book is normally a private sequential experience. Obviously, on an exhibition such as this, one has to compromise and make the difficult curatorial decision as to what aspect of a book to show:

  • Should it be the cover or the colophon?
  • Should it be the best double-page spread or the title page?
  • Should it be an atypical but unusual feature?
  • And with Artistsí Books not in codex form there are often a myriad ways to display the object.

In some cases, where the decision was particularly difficult, we have given a second view of the book, as it were, by placing a photograph of another aspect next to the book itself.

Steven Sack and many others have commented on the surprise often encountered when opening an Artistís Book. He has suggested that I should show you an example. This is a small feminist book dealing with quilting. [Demonstrate the opening of a Heidi Kyle mechanism]. Now that the conjuring is over, to return to the exhibition.

All book exhibitions are by their nature installations. The space for this exhibition has been curated in the form of a book. We intend the viewer to read the exhibition by moving through labeled chapters of the space.

For example, the spine of the exhibition and this book installation (at the far end) shows books where the spine and gutter are integral to their artistic intention. As you near the end of the exhibition, we question the parameters of the book arts and the nature and possibilities of the Artistís Book. The wedge shaped positioning of the display cases (or pages) forces the viewer to open the book by moving through the exhibition. We have placed the South African books alongside the international works in their context and the South African labels have an orange surround for easy identification. It isnít difficult to see that South Africa is easily comparable with the best in the world. There are two interesting facts about this exhibition:

Firstly: we are told by Umbrella (an Artistís Book database in California) that (with exception of an exhibition at the Pompidou in Paris some years ago) this is probably the largest Artistís Book exhibition ever mounted.

Secondly: thanks to Michele Sohn and her company Greymatter, this exhibition will be available to anyone world-wide who has access to the Internet. The site address is available from the gallery.

I would like to thank those artists and collectors who have lent work for this exhibition. I would like to thank all the other people who made this show possible especially the dedicated staff of the JAG, and particularly Hercules Human and Cheryl Cromie. All my family and friends who gave so much help and support during this project. Finally my thanks to my co-curator, David Paton, whose Masters thesis on South African Artists' Books is eagerly awaited, and which will, I hope, be quickly published. His work surrounds you here today.

During the run up to this exhibition, there have been several media interviews and, the one common question, inevitably, was: ďCan you tell us Ďwhat is an artistís book?íĒ.

I hope this exhibition begins to answer that question.

Thank you