This exhibition and catalogue comprise part of the larger Booknesses enterprise. 2017 is the 21st anniversary of the first exhibition of artists’ books in South Africa, Artists’ Books in the Ginsberg Collection held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) from 25 August - 27 October 1996 and it seems appropriate to stage its successor now. The exhibition and catalogue are also accompanied by an exhibition of South African artists’ and designers’ books held at the FADA Gallery (opening on 24 March 2017) and the first colloquium on the book arts in South Africa (24 – 26th March 2017) to be held in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA), University of Johannesburg. Together, the exhibitions, catalogues, colloquium and related workshops constitute a ‘taking stock’ of the diverse book arts in South Africa under the title Booknesses, a self-consciously open-ended label implying the qualities which constitute a book in the hands of the artist as both a physical object and conceptual space.
I must thank, firstly, Rosalind Cleaver, friend and colleague in the book arts for initially encouraging and coaxing me to begin the process of planning these events in 2013. Her steadfast support of this project goes back to its inception and her presence in all aspects of the project is keenly felt and appreciated. Naturally, this exhibition and catalogue would not have been possible without the generous support of Jack Ginsberg and his remarkable, internationally renowned, collection of artists’ books. In 1996, when we curated the first exhibition at JAG, then purportedly the second largest exhibition of its kind ever staged in the world, Jack and I began to dream about making this exclusive, tiny niche activity known to a greater diversity of South African practitioners as well as making the Ginsberg Collection more widely known and accessible to artists, designers, architects, students and academics. Ten years later, in 2006, Peter Dennis of Logos Flow helped us launch the website www.theartistsbook.org.za which houses information and growing scholarship on the book arts, a database of South African artists’ books as well as a database of books on artists’ books which Jack is collecting parallel to his collection of artists’ books. This catalogue hopes to build upon, and add to, book arts scholarship in South Africa. Jack’s generous lending of prize examples of artists’ books from his larger collection has not only made this exhibition possible, but also brought the world’s attention to bare upon this incredible resource which exists in South Africa and which is unique on the African continent.
The exhibition and this catalogue also make possible a new collection of critical writings on the book arts in South Africa. Keith Dietrich and Pippa Skotnes have contributed essays on diverse aspects of South African book arts including the book’s complex image / text relationships as well as the book’s relationship with its own conventions; relationships and conventions which can be uncoupled and exploded so as to fully realise a book’s bookness. Robbin Ami Silverberg has contributed a text on her experiences of the relationship between Johannesburg and New York with the artist’s book being connective tissue between the two locales. Because of Robbin’s long association with the Department of Visual Art and Artist Proof Studio (APS) as well as being a trustee of Jack Ginsberg’s Ampersand Foundation which facilitates South African artists’ residencies in New York, Robbin’s kind agreement to be a key-note speaker at the colloquium as well as open the FADA
Gallery exhibition of South African artists’ books – which runs in conjunction with Jack’s exhibition – is hugely anticipated and appreciated. Kim Berman’s association with Jack, Robbin, UJ, Artist Proof Studio and artist’s book-making adds resonance to her interview with Jack about his collection. Kim’s essay contributes a dialogical understanding to the genesis and development of the Ginsberg Collection as well as the role Jack has played in both the local and international (book)arts scenes. Of particular mention is the work done by my research assistant Nicole Swartz who, apart from coordinating much of the data required in delivering the larger project, transcribed the Ginsberg interview with accuracy and skill. Sarah Bodman, who is the Senior Research Fellow for Artists’ Books and Programme Leader for MA Multi-disciplinary Printmaking at the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK has been my contact point with the international book arts community since 2008. To you Sarah a huge thank you for bringing your expertise and experience to the project as one of the colloquium keynote speakers as well as agreeing to open the Booknesses: Artists’ Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection exhibition. Your generous support of my research over many years is gratefully acknowledged along with rich insights which you will bring to bear upon the proceedings of the related colloquium. Pinkie Mekgwe, Executive Director of Internationalisation at the University of Johannesburg is acknowledged for facilitating funding for bringing Sarah to Johannesburg.
The Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Prof. Federico Freschi is thanked for writing the foreword to the catalogue and bringing his curatorial and art historical eye to bare on the project as a whole. His backing for the project, and especially his urgent support in regaining the UJ Art Gallery as the exhibition venue when we thought we had lost it in the wake of legitimate student protests and unrest in 2016, is also acknowledged with gratitude. Completing the acknowledgements of contributions to the catalogue, my deepest gratitude goes to Robyn Sassen who undertook the editing process – which included all communications with the authors – the writing of the contextualising introduction as well as the task of guiding the publication through its peer-review process. Without your contribution Robyn, this catalogue would simply not exist.
The Faculty prides itself on the quality of its students and alumni and I extend my sincerest thanks to Nika Campher who designed and produced this catalogue. Undertaking such a huge task with grace and calm has resulted in a publication which will enrich the library shelves of academic institutions the world over, something for which you, Nika, can be especially proud. To Mark Stanley Adams, I acknowledge the generous hours spent photographing almost every book which appears in this catalogue: a task cheerfully undertaken whilst carefully manoeuvring each book towards either ‘kitchen’ or ‘hell’, our colloquial points of alignment with the camera’s viewfinder. I also acknowledge Roxy Do Rego’s careful proofreading of the texts of this catalogue.
As part of the exhibition curatorial team my gratitude goes to Annali Dempsey, chief curator of the UJ Art Gallery, whose masterful curatorial eye has helped me build a coherent and navigable exhibition from the complex themes with which the diverse book-works presented us. Your professionalism and tireless work is evident in the final exhibition. The other members of the exhibition curatorial team; Jack Ginsberg
and Rosalind Cleaver receive my heartfelt thanks and appreciation. Without your support and finely tuned sensitivities to the difficult task of displaying books without being able to touch them, this exhibition would have simply been a collection of objects in display cases. My 2017 departmental student assistants, led by Lilly Oosthuizen, are acknowledged for helping realise the exhibition in its fine detail.
To Grant Cleaver and Terri Brooks, thank you for driving aspects of the exhibition display and catalogue publishing without which, neither would have been realised. My colleagues in the Department of Visual Art; Vedant Nanackchand, Shonisani Netshia, Karen von Veh, Gordon Froud, Kim Berman and Elda Majola, thank you for your unfailing support for the greater project and the myriad of ways in which you have help make the diverse aspects of the project realisable during a period of ongoing academic turmoil which questions the very foundation of the academic project in this country. Also to Eugene Hön and Prof. Brenda Schmahmann who were part of the FADA exhibition and colloquium organising committees respectively and which run concurrently with this exhibition, a special note of thanks for helping me realise the greater project. Wilhelm van Rensburg is acknowledged for designing and running the education programs which are central to the outreach aims of the project. Natasha Munsamy is thanked for securing the loan of iPads and Jabulani Nyembe is acknowledged for developing all digital and online UX media which help enliven and deepen the visitor’s experience of the exhibition.
During the course of putting the exhibition together and preparing the catalogue it was necessary to receive permission from each and every artist, or their agents, in order to reproduce their work. To every artist who provided kind permission to reproduce imagery, a huge thank you, you made this daunting task bearable and I have felt a great camaraderie and kinship in our shared passion for the artist’s book through our correspondences. Special thanks go to Becky Daniel, Gallery Assistant at Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Julie Green, Head of Reproductions, David Hockney, Inc. USA; Wendy Williams, Managing Director, Louise Bourgeois Studio, New York; Karin Seinsoth, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich; Janet Hicks, Director of Permissions, ARS, Artists Rights Society, New York; Michael Eby, Research and Archives, Pace Gallery, New York and Ilyana van Tonder, DALRO, Johannesburg, South Africa who were all particularly helpful and patient with my multiple emails regarding reproduction rights and permissions.