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The panel of the accordion book has yellow and orange flames that pop out of the page, beneath which is black print on light brown paper.

Detail of Circulus sapientiae by Claire van Vliet, 2001.



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The artist's book is first and foremost a book whose content determines the appropriate media for its creation.

-Anne Moeglin-Delcroix

In the virtual exhibition Artists' Books: Bound in Art, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) presents for the first time a unique collection of artists' books dating from the early 20th century to today. The exhibition brings together the best examples from this collection of rare books that are as exceptional and imaginative as their creators. Some are stunning book objects; other pieces, while more traditionally crafted, are true works of art, as unique for the watercolours, drawings, prints and photographs that enhance them as for their bindings.

Artists' Books: Bound in Art showcases LAC's interest in and commitment to this aesthetic movement that is part of the history of the book. Many factors were considered in the preparation of this exhibition, such as featuring artists from across Canada, and highlighting changes in styles over the years as well as the various approaches that are characteristic of this genre.

Since its emergence, whether in volumen or codex form, the book-as object has customarily been subordinate to the text that it conveys. This happens to such an extent that, in people's minds, the primary purpose of a book—to provide an easy-to-use medium for communicating information—is relegated to second place1.

In the background, a yellow rectangular cardboard box is standing upright with black print that can be seen on the interior. In the foreground on the left, emerging from the yellow box, is a black rectangular box with a black and white photograph of some houses, trees, clouds, and a mountain range in the background.

Le 6 avril 1944, by Jacques Fournier.


Through the artist's book, the book as object reclaims its original function—to communicate both textual and visual information—in an entertaining and unique way.

The intent behind the artist's book is expressed in the way the piece is put together, the way it is handled, the sequential way in which a person moves through it, and the reading experience it offers—all strategically designed by the artist and specific to the book as object.

An opened book is lying flat showing the edge of a brown book cover and white pages. The left-hand page is blank. On the right-hand page, aligned black print is covering the majority of the page but leaving the bottom area blank.

, by Gaston Petit.


While these books share the common characteristic of having been created by artists, that alone is not enough to make them artists' books. Guidance can be found in the words of American painter and artist Edward Ruscha. "I merely wanted a cohesive thing," explained Ruscha in 1965, commenting on his landmark book Twentysix Gasoline Stations. The artist's book is more than the sum of its visible and readable parts. The intent behind the artist's book is expressed in the way the piece is put together, the way it is handled, the sequential way in which a person moves through it, and the reading experience it offers—all strategically designed by the artist and specific to the book as object.

Plexiglass structure made of two panels rounded at the top with wooden rectangular bottom is seen at a 45-degree angle. Inside is a circular fan of small thin rectangular planks of wood overlapping and fanned out in a circle.

Du coin de l'œil, binding by Odette Drapeau-Milot.


The creators of artists' books come from various backgrounds and, inspired by their respective disciplines, they help to broaden the very concept of the book in unique ways. The people involved in the craft of bookmaking, for example, will invent techniques that reflect their own areas of specialization: a bookbinder will focus on how the book is put together and handled; a typographer will find ways to break standard layout conventions; and a printer will look for new materials on which to print.

On the left, a printed and handwritten black text with a black and white photograph attached by a paperclip, and a square piece of paper printed in black attached by a pin to the page. On the right, a black and white photograph of an embroidery, on a textured fabric, of a mouth slightly open and showing teeth over a fabric.

True Patriot Love, exhibition catalogue by Joyce Wieland.


Sometimes, the most innovative ideas come from artists outside these fields. Whether these artists are painters, sculptors, performance artists, video artists or photographers, they find in the book a format and particular distribution process that differs from conventional exhibitions, so that the artist's book emerges sometimes as a complement to a work and sometimes as a completely independent piece.

Whether they are considered illustrated books, book objects or small press publications, these unique works invite one and all to reinvent the act of reading and partake in a new experience.

1 Hence the need for Ulises Carrión, an artist's book theorist, to emphasize that a writer does not write books, but rather texts.