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Hamptons Life

Aug 4, 2009 2:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Signature moments a sign of the times in the art world

Aug 4, 2009 2:45 PM

These days, art isn’t confined to gallery or museum walls. Increasingly, artists have been turning to books to present a body of work or to use pages normally reserved for authors to manifest a creative vision. Falling into two distinct camps, art books and artist books can be found popping up in growing numbers in spots across the East End.

Art book signings by artists seem to be more frequent this summer. Recently, Dennis Oppenheim unveiled his new book, “Dennis Oppenheim: Public Projects” with a signing and illustrated talk at the Parrish Art Museum. Neil Leifer held a signing of two of his sports photography books at Delaney Cooke Gallery and Amy Zerner held a signing of her new art book at Keyes Gallery. Both signings were held in conjunction with exhibitions at the respective Sag Harbor venues.

Last Saturday, Eric Fischl signed copies of his newly-released book: “Eric Fischl Beach Paintings” at Rizzoli Bookstore at The Empire Gallery. He’ll have another book signing as part of Saturday’s Author’s Night benefit at the East Hampton Library.

Keeping the division clear, art books at artist signings typically reveal a single artist’s body of work through a series of published images. The book may include a critical essay or two, factual information about artwork included and an artist resume.

The more generic art books are typically designed by someone other than the artist. This is a significant 
difference between art books and artists’ books, according to all booksellers 
and artists interviewed.

Jeremy Sanders of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton says that art books may be making a resurgence since technology now allows affordable and high quality reproductions of artwork. Photography books have also proliferated significantly in the last 20 years, he said. There used to be around 50-60 photography books published in America annually, Now, there’s at least 10 times that amount, he said.

Artists and publishers both like art books because they’re a way to present and preserve a body of work or capture a period of time in a permanent way. When a substantial body of work finds itself inside the pages of a book, it’s a way for the artist to reflect on the art and how different pieces relate to each other.

“It allows you to see things differently,” Mr. Fischl said on Saturday. “The beach paintings were made over a period of 30 years. I didn’t even know I had so many. These paintings have never been seen this way before.”

For Mr. Oppenheim, his recent book is the only way his permanent public projects can be seen by people who will never travel to all the places around the world where he has created installations. Each was commissioned with different ideas in mind, so the book pulls together a diverse range of work.

Art and photography books can also capture an event or significant historical moment. Photographer Matt Weber’s recent books are compilations of photographs he made depicting New Yorkers’ reactions to President Barack Obama’s election. An exhibition of these photographs remains on view through August 7 at Harper’s Books in East Hampton.

Overall, art books are a great way to see art, said Anthony Petrillose, co-owner of Rizzoli Bookstore at Empire Gallery. His shop specializes in art, design and fashion books that are publisher-designed.

For a single price, book buyers can “own” a substantial amount of art that goes well beyond the limits of most people’s pocketbooks. Seeing art in books is the way most people learn about art and artists, Mr. Petrillose said. This includes historical titans like Michelangelo and Picasso, plus artists making waves now.

“Most people don’t go the Met or might not have access to museums that have a Picasso,” he said. “Yet everyone knows what a Picasso looks like because they’ve seen his art in books. Even if you go to a museum, there’s only a certain number of pieces that are going to be there and for a limited time. With books, you get to see a lot of art, whenever you want. The exhibition never closes.”

Advances in print-on-demand technology have made it easy for artists to make their own art books and sell them. Like art books produced by publishing houses, self-published books offer an affordable way for collectors to have access to a vast amount of images.

Artist books, on the other hand, are a different breed.

“Artist books are the antithesis of art books,” said Levine Harper, owner of Harper’s Books in East Hampton and New York. “They were created in response to art books.”

Artist books are typically published in small quantities that can range from 10 to 1,000 or so. Every aspect of the book is designed by the artist. Many have no text or might include a discreet page of commentary. Sometimes they are designed and put together to make a point.

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