More than just a container: the Fine Arts Library Artist Books collection

Untitled by S. Esling (artist book)

Esling, S. (2009). [Untitled]. Auckland: S. Esling.

Defining an artist book can be a challenge as these works are not simply books made by artists.

Ulises Carrión (1980) captures the essence of this form when he describes them as “an expressive unity […] where the message is the sum of all materials and formal elements” (p. 25). This definition draws attention to the fact that an artist book is not just a container for words or images on the page but an art object in its own right.

The Fine Arts Library has been collecting artist books for over 40 years, with the first work acquired being Alison Cavell’s 1967 book, The Hill. Since then, the collection has grown to over 450 works showcasing a range of approaches and interpretations of the artist book – from textual and pictorial, through to sculptural.

Most works represented in the collection have been produced by Elam students and staff. There are however, books by other local, national, and international book artists such as Michael Reed, Judith Mohns, Allan Kaprow, and Sol Le Witt.

You can find artist books in the Catalogue (search for “artists book” and limit results to Fine Arts Library). They may be viewed in the Fine Arts Library Special Collections.

Between the waves by M. Jenkinson (artist book)

Jenkinson, M. (2004). Between the waves. Auckland: Fortuna Press.

William Hamill, Lending and Collections Librarian, Fine Arts Library


Carrión, U. (1980). Second thoughts. Amsterdam: Void Distributors.

One Comment

  • joy edwards commented on 20/11/2017

    The photo of the brick Artist’s book makes me think of Kate Tempest’s book “The Bricks that Built the Houses”. Art on Art on Art……

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