Paris (France) :Flipping Through Portable Artwork

Today, an increasing number of artists from different disciplines are introducing books as original, autonomous works of art. The books are printed in small editions, often numbered and signed, and are displayed in art spaces, museums and auction houses. The trend is particularly visible in Paris, where galleries, universities and dedicated events are promoting the medium.

“The main point about this trend is that these aren’t exhibition catalogs,” said Camille Henrot, a Paris-based artist who mainly works on sculpture and video. “They aren’t derivative products of a larger project, but an independent project in their own right, even when created in relation to an exhibition.”

Ms. Henrot’s first book, published in 2007 by her gallerist, Kamel Mennour, started as a record of observations she collected when she was preparing an exhibition with the artist Yona Friedman. Entitled “Reception/Transmission,” it documented the dialogue between the two artists and gathered faxes, photographs, handwritten notes and sketches. “This was initially supposed to be the catalog of the exhibition but became the exact opposite of the promotional tool that a catalog can be,” Ms. Henrot said.

The format is intriguing, she continued, because it moves away from classical, linear reading. “It can be opened, read, understood in any direction,” she said.

Sylvie Boulanger, the director of the CNEAI (Centre National de l’Edition et de l’Art Imprimé), a contemporary art center dedicated to the presentation and production of artist books in Chatou, outside Paris, said that although artists’ books “have a long history, institutions worldwide today are increasingly opening the doors to them, from the Bremen Museum in Germany, to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Geneva, to auction sales.” Christie’s and Sotheby’s are both including a significant number of artist books in their June sales, for example. “The book is subjected to a contemporary art context.”

In February, Ms. Boulanger opened an art space in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris, dedicated to presenting artist books within an gallery context and encourage collaborations between artists, curators and critics but also musicians and neurologists.

When making a book, Ms. Boulanger said, the artist “also becomes a collector and a curator.” She added: “This is the cheapest form of art-making and diffusion, which makes sense in today’s economical context.”

Other smaller, independent galleries are also intrigued by the book format and its relation to the artwork. Le Pied de Biche in the 11th Arrondissement holds a triple license of gallery, publishing house and independent comic book publisher. It organizes its own book projects that it then publishes, produces and sells, often inviting artists coming from specialties ranging from graffiti to tattoo. The books are then presented through exhibitions.

PARIS — Ever since the Romantic poet and artist William Blake handpainted and bound his own books and sold them for a few shillings in the mid-18th century, artists around the world have been experimenting with bookmaking, overturning its narrative structure to explore new artistic dimensions.

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