Books On Books Collection – Klaus Groh and Hermann Havekost

Artists’ Books / Künstlerbücher Buchobjekte
Livres d’Artistes / Libri Oggetti (1986)

Artists’ Books / Künstlerbücher Buchobjeckte / Livres d’Artistes / Libri Oggetti (1986)
Klaus Groh, Hermann Havekost, Christiane Dierks and Anke Schröder
Four-way bound book. 204 x 204 mm (closed), 420 x 420 mm (open), 1440 pages. Edition of 1000, of which this is #461. Acquired from Christian Hesse Auktionen, 7 June 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Richard Kostelanetz writes of an essential distinction that separates the imaginative from the conventional book:

In the latter, syntactically familiar sentences are set in rectangular blocks of uniform type …, and these are then ‘designed’ into pages that look like each other (and like pages we have previously seen). An imaginative book, by definition, attempts to realize something else with syntax, with format, with pages, with covers, with size, with shape, with sequence, with structure, with bnding — with any or all of these elements, ideally reflecting the needs and suggestions of the particular book. Most books are primarily about something outside themselves; most book-art books are primarily about themselves. P. 48.

This catalogue of the exhibition organized by the late Hermann Havekost at Oldenburg University in 1986 qualifies as imaginative on nearly every one of those criteria. To boot, it is about itself as well as about something outside itself.

The ambidextrous book appeared the same year as The Book Made Art, edited by Jeffrey Abt and designed by Buzz Spector. The size of the Oldenburg catalogue dwarfs that of The Book Made Art, is more globally representative (especially of Central and Eastern Europe), and has more of a textual, Fluxus feel to it. Nevertheless, the catalogue’s German and Italian titles, several of its selections and its very production and performance chime with the sculptural, book-object tenor that Spector achieved with his design and Abt with his selections for The Book Made Art.

Among the Oldenburg exhibition’s artists and their works clearly addressing the book as object are

Denise Aubertin Journal impubliable (1984), a work of altered, torn, collaged-over pages

Stathis Chrissicopulos The Rainbow’s Book (1982), an acrylic block shaped like a book

Sheril Cunning Summer Rain (1984), a codex of pages of gampi and abaca with mica particles, bearing watermarks of a rain storm

Elisabetta Gut Libro-incabbiato (1981), a bamboo bird cage with a miniature Italian-German dictionary inside

J.H. Kocman Paper-re-making book No. 057 (1982), a book made handmade paper sheets made from seven books that were ground to pulp in water

Martin Peulen Untitled (c. 1984), a matchbox labelled “Martin Peulen Caution Book!” and holding a stapled book (H20 x W200 mm)

Adam Rzepecki Untitled (1984), a book with a saw stuck halfway through

Franz E. Walther Stoffbuch 2 Zwei (1969), a book of blank fabric pages, closed with cloth straps and resembling a folded straitjacket.

However broadly representative of book art in the 1980s and star-studded (Roberta Allen, Barton L. Beneš, Mirella Bentivoglio, Agnes Denes, Robert Filliou, Dick Higgins, Dennis Oppenheim and Tibor Papp to mention a handful), the Oldenburg catalogue’s chief claim to a place in the Collection remains its status of “catalogue as book art”, a claim to “book art” that rests on its four-fold binding structure. In this, it is similar to The Book Made Art (1986) with its trim and trompe l’oeil vitrine pages; or Irma Boom’s The Architecture of the Book (2013), a catalogue miniaturisé; or Odd Volumes (2014) with its more “traditional” dos-à-dos binding.

These “interrogations” of the book’s structure serve to excite the appetite for even more complex, self-reflexive acrobatics with exhibitions of book art. Which institution of book art will spring for this six-fold structure?

Sixfold dos-à-dos binding
Photos: István Borbás/National Library of Sweden

Further Reading

An Online Annotation of “The Book Made Art”‘. 8 May 2020. Bookmarking Book Art.

Kwakkel, Erik. 2014. “Six books, one binding.” Accessed 30 June 2021.

Liberty, Megan N. 23 March 2021. “Art Books, Artist Books, and the Exhibition Catalogue as a Space for Intervention“. Center for Book Arts, Events. Accessed 30 June 2021. (Recorded here.)