Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bookworks, a bookshop for artist's books at the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) (Artist's Book Series I)

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Former site of Bookworks, now Golden Nails
I've been thinking about my collection of artist's books for a while now and what to do with them. It seems a shame to just keep them locked up in acid free boxes in the house. But in advance of donating them to a public institution that can best take care of them and also offer them an opportunity for wider exposure, I wanted to review them and their collection here. So this first post in my "Artist's Book Series" will kick off with where it all started.

Bookworks

I first became interested in collecting artist's books when I discovered Bookworks, the shop associated with the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA). The WPA and Bookworks were among the first residents of the revitalizing area now known as the Penn Quarter. Robin Moore was the (one of?) the managers during the time I frequented the shop. She brought a great eye to the books offered and was always great to talk with. Moore also assisted with the exhibition with Smithsonian Libraries, "Science and the Artist's Book" (which I'll post more about later in this series).
Here's a bit on the founding of Bookworks from the WPA site: 
"In 1981, WPA inaugurated Bookworks, a store that celebrated the emergence of artists’ books.  Inspiration for Bookworks came from The Book Bus, a mobile bookstore from Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, which traveled across the Northeast to bring independent literature, including small press publications, poetry, and artists’ books, to the public. WPA was among its regular stops. Concurrently, under the leadership of Al Nodal, WPA hosted Artists’ Books USA, a traveling exhibition that included books by over 135 artists from across the country. In March of 1980, WPA hosted an exhibition of books by Washington-area artists curated by H. Terry Braunstein. WPA staff member Susan Strauss simultaneously assembled a small collection of books for WPA, which Nodal admired." (from "On Bookworks").
Having a shop where one could look and touch the artist's books and interact with knowledgeable staff, created an opportunity to start a collection. Having spent time at the galleries around Dupont Circle, I knew that collecting prints, paintings or other artworks could be complex. But artist's books offered a great opportunity to mingle my librarianship with an art collecting urge. Add to that the activist and avante garde element inherent in much of the artist's book movement, and it was a perfect fit.

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Former site of the Washington Project for the Arts
Bookworks led me to Printed Matter (the Nirvana for artist's books), but Bookworks, my local connection to the world of artist's book, remained my polar star. 
Sadly, changes at WPA led to changes in the store. First the space was constricted and then eventually closed as the WPA moved on into new directions:
"Bookworks was for many years a success story. It connected WPA to a wider community, drawing in those who purposefully sought the types of works it offered and piquing the interest of curious passers-by. It was, in Russell’s words, a “link to the rest of the world, a store that was essentially an exhibition.” In 1995, however, it succumbed to the financial crisis that led to WPA’s incorporation into the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the following year." (from "On Bookworks").

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