MA Curation Practices student on the challenges of displaying artist books

20 March 2020
MA Curation Practises student, Sarah Evans

How do you care for and display fragile artist books while ensuring that audiences can enjoy and fully engage with them? MA Curation Practises student, Sarah Evans, reflects on this challenge in relation to a collection of artist books by American artist Tauba Auerbach (b.1981) which have recently been acquired by the University. 

Auerbach works across painting, musical performance, sculpture, photography, jewellery design and artist books. In 2013 she founded Diagonal Press in New York with the aim of exploring the physical possibilities of consumer printing and binding processes, such as comb binding, coil binding, photocopying and rubber stamping. Her artist books allow her to explore the relationships between two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms sculpted from paper. A collection of her artist books are on display in the University library until 31 March, as part of the University's on-going  ‘Librarian’s Choice’ series. The collection, recently acquired by the University, is also the only UK collection of Auerbach’s artist books.

This physically complex and intricate collection includes, [2,3] (2011), a set of six oversized pop-up books each featuring a die-cut paper sculpture. Each sculpture folds flat as the book closes. The spectacular effect of opening the books and witnessing an extravagant paper sculpture unfold in front of your eyes is a joy to behold. I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity to explore several pieces in the collection before they were placed on display, experiencing the books as Auerbach intended, whereby the process of the work unfolding - its state of flux between 2D and 3D - is an important aspect of the work.

Display of the work clearly required careful consideration by the curatorial team from overall exhibition layout to custom plinths, which showcase and protect the work while ensuring that fine detail can be seen by the audience. The display was complemented by, a handling session and a presentation and Q&A with Louisa Riley-Smith, Archivist, 20th Century Art Archives, on Auerbach’s work, inspirations and intentions. The team also shared film of the paper sculptures in action. The opportunities to interact with the work, organised by the curatorial team, significantly enhanced the audience experience and supported engagement while ensuring that this fragile work was appropriately protected.

Tauba Auebach/Diagonal Press, Leeds Arts University Library, until 31 March 2020

Images: Tauba Auerbach, [2,3], 2011, 80 x 52 cm, 6 books in a file, edition of 1000, Craft paper, board, signed edition card