The Artists' & Rare Books Collection at NSCAD is an expansive working educational collection that houses hundreds of printed matter materials, most dating from the 1960s to today. Many of the works in the collection are highly influential works by pioneering artists in their field. The three main types of material in this special collection which we will highlight here are artists' books, exhibition catalogues, and NSCAD Press publications. Special thanks to Emma Allain for her recommendations and insight on the collection.
To see a list of all books in our Special Collection, visit NSCAD Rare Books and Artists Books.
Above: Reflections, Lethbridge by Iain Baxter&. Call Number: TR 647 B38 A4 1979a (NSCAD University Archives Collection; In Library Use Only).
What is an Artist's Book?
Artists' books are publications produced by artists that are artworks in their own right. The artist's book is not simply a vehicle to showcase or discuss art. Instead, the book itself is used as an essential part of the art form. Artists' books may use image, text, meaning, narrative, or a combination of these elements to create unique experiences for each viewer. They are not limited solely to traditional book layouts; some artists' "books" may be collections of letters or sleeves of photographs. They may even incorporate unexpected media such as lengths of cloth or bricks.
Using books as an art form allows artists to reach a wider audience than would be possible through galleries or museums. Comparatively cheap to produce and easy to widely distribute, artists' books are highly communicative art forms with incredible political potential that offer an alternative to and critique of traditional systems (Printed Matter, 2019).
NSCAD's Artists' and Rare Book Collection contains a wide variety of artists' books produced by visiting artists, prominent artists around the globe, and NSCAD students and faculty. Some examples of seminal artists' books in our collection can be found below.
Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha (1966)
Ruscha's Every Building on the Sunset Strip redefined readers' interaction with photographic artists' books. Rather than place individual photographs on each page, Ruscha instead shows Los Angeles's iconic Sunset Strip as a stretching panorama of interconnected photographs at the top and bottom of a single 25-foot-long accordion-folded page. This gives the illusion of driving one way down the street before turning around (at which point the reader must physically turn the book upside down to view the flipped panorama of the other side of the street) and driving back the other direction. Other key artists' books by Ed Ruscha in our collection include Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1969), Real Estate Opportunities (1970), Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1974), and more.
Artists' Books by Dieter Roth
NSCAD's Printed Matter collection is home to a number of artists' books by preeminent Swiss artist Dieter Roth (also known as Dieter Rot and Diter Rot), including the above from left to right: Mundunculum (1975), 2 Bilderbücher (1976), and Smaller Works (Part 3) 1972-1980 (1980). By reimagining books themselves as art rather than simply as vehicles in which to showcase or discuss art, Roth was one of the first to help give rise to artists' books as an art form.
Printed Matter. (2019). What is an artists' book? Retrieved from https://www.printedmatter.org/about/artist-book
Exhibition catalogues are publications made to accompany museum and gallery exhibitions. Their intended audience may be anyone from the general public to academic researchers and professionals, and their format ranges from single-page leaflets with a list of works to expensive hardcover publications with glossy color photographs, lengthy descriptions of each work, and other content produced by artists and art professionals such as interviews and essays.
NSCAD's Artist's and Rare Books Collection houses a number of groundbreaking and influential exhibition catalogues published from the 1960s to today. Below are a few examples of what you will find in the collection:
Information., by the Museum of Modern Art and Kynaston McShine (1970)
One highlight of our collection is Information., a 1970 exhibition catalogue created by the Museum of Modern Art and then-curator Kynaston McShine to accompany that year's July 2nd-September 20th exhibition of the same name. Information was one of the earliest surveys of conceptual art and is now considered a seminal exhibition. The catalogue is an essential component of the exhibition and includes contributions by each artist who participated in the show, an essay by Kynaston McShine, exhibit information, and recommended reading.
Edward Ruscha (Ed-werd Rew-shay) Young Artist: A Book Accompanying the Exhibition of Prints, Drawings, and Books of Edward Ruscha at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, April 18-May 28, 1972., by Edward Ruscha and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1972).
A catalogue made to accompany Ed Ruscha's 1972 exhibition of drawings, prints, and books at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Designed after a "Big Little Book" (a dime store toy book), this book contains black and white photographs of and text about some of Ruscha's most important works.
On Kawara 1967, by On Kawara and the Otis Art Institute (1977).
An exhibition catalogue made to accompany On Kawara's 1977 exhibition of paintings at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Contains color photographs of On Kawara's work environment and journal entries documenting his thought and work processes while creating his series of date paintings a decade earlier.
The NSCAD Press
The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design operated from 1972-1976, 1978-1987, and for several years in the 2000s. During those years, it published works by pioneering artists such as Michael Snow, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Holzer, and Steve Reich.
In its earliest years, the primary focus of the NSCAD Press was to make more widely available writings by and about visual artists from the 1960s that significantly impacted contemporary artistic and architectural practice but had not been widely distributed through traditional channels (i.e. museums and galleries). Later, the mission of the NSCAD Press changed to more broadly supporting progressive thinking and practice by publishing a wide variety of works written by and about leading contemporary artists (Buchloch as cited in Kennedy, 2012).
More information on selected NSCAD Press publications can be found below.
Truisms and Essays, by Jenny Holzer (1982)
Call Number: N 6512 T78 (NSCAD University Archives Collection)
Jenny Holzer's Truisms and Essays contains a collection of Holzer's thought-provoking, provocative, and often inflammatory authoritative one-line statements and 100-word essays from her earlier works Truisms (1977-79) and Inflammatory Essays (1979-82). Each truism or essay is included in English, Spanish, French, and German. Disarticulated from their original context and presented one after the other in bold, capitalized red and black text, Holzer's statements and essays compete with each other in a cacophony of conflicting statements that emphasize the power of voice, text, and ideology.
The Standard Corpus of Present Day English Language Usage arranged by word length and alphabetized within word length, by Gerald Ferguson (1978)
Call Number: PE 1691 F4 1970 (NSCAD University Archives Collection)
Gerald Ferguson's idea for a dictionary arranged by word length was conceived while working on a 1968 series of single-page prints of words and letters as graphics "which represented efforts to extend ideas, then current, to modular composition, objectively determined forms and the material status of printed letters" (Ferguson, 1978). The Standard Corpus inspired several later works, including an April 17th 1972 "Abridged Choral Reading of the Standard Corpus" led by Ferguson at NSCAD.
Cover to Cover, by Michael Snow (1975)
Call Number: N 6494 .C63 S604 (NSCAD University Archives Collection)
One of Michael Snow's key works, Cover to Cover plays with the "book as object." There is no text in the book. Instead, two photographic series are presented recto verso: each series simultaneously presents the same subject from the opposite angle, so that a scene from one angle is printed on the front of a page while the same scene from another angle is printed on the back of the page. Snow further disorients viewers by flipping the orientation halfway through the book so that readers must flip the book "upside-down" and start from the back, at which point they are presented with a disorienting sequence of images of the same images from the front half of the book. In this way, viewers are forced to acknowledge the book they are physically holding (Langford, 2019).
Ferguson, G. (1978). The Standard Corpus of Present Day English Language Usage Arranged by Word Length and Alphabetized Within Word Length. Halifax, NS: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Press.
Kennedy, G. (2012). The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Langford, M. (2019). Michael Snow: Cover to Cover, 1975. Retrieved from https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/michael-snow/key-works/cover-to-cover
The Artists' & Rare Books Collection is located in the Visual Resources Collection on the 3rd floor of NSCAD's Fountain Campus, accessible by elevator or stairs from the 5163 Duke Street entrance. Please see the home page of this guide for up-to-date hours and information on how to request appointments and access.