artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book.
The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.
In 2013, Tim Kreider lamented in The New Yorker that, “the illustrated book cover, like painted movie posters or newspaper comics, is pretty much dead.” With the rise and fall of the publishing industry, gone are the days of illustrated book covers. While this has been a boon for the stock photography industry, there are still those that admire the book covers of yester-year. Julian Montague, a multi-disciplinary artist from Buffalo, New York, began documenting book covers and illustrations in February 2009. Inspired by a friend who started a blog to catalogue his book collection, Montague has posted over 1500 images to his own blog.
One year into the project, Montague began to successfully explore the intersection between his own artistic project Secondary Occupants/Animals & Architecture and books as a medium. This spawned a series of faux books that he refers to as “Volumes from an Imagined Intellectual History of Animals, Architecture and Man.” Conceived of as the reading material of a fictional investigator, Montague’s thematic volumes visually draw from mid-century graphic designs. The titles are often playful and witty, and include “Cockroach as Economic Indicator”, “Secondary Occupants: New Perspectives on Animals in the Home from Pets to Pests”, and “Managing Structural Bird Problems”.
Sold as an edition of four with two Artist Proofs, each book is individually worn and creased as if it truly was a well-loved object. To create the books, Montague first obtains used library books and retrofits the existing book with a new digitally printed cover. Although interesting on their own, the books are best appreciated as a part of larger collection. He also created a series of posters and album to complement his library of faux texts.
Julian Montague holds a B.A. from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. He has worked extensively in graphic design, and he has exhibited regularly since 2004. His book “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Field Guide to Identification” was published by Abrams in 2006.
Elizabeth K. Harris is the Director at Louis K. Meisel Gallery. She holds an MA in Visual Arts Administration from New York University and has co-authored two books on art. She sometimes likes looking at books more than reading them.