Furthering the Critical Dialogue


by Tony White

The Contemporary Artist’s Books Conference (CABC) in New York City was first held as a two day conference in 2008. Founded by Tony White who came up with the idea of hosting a contemporary artists’ books conference in New York City in 2005 after attending the Artist’s Books Conference at Wellesley College that same year. His goal was to increase discussion and criticism in the field of artists’ books. White approached colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art library to help co-organize the conference. One year later, in 2006, Printed Matter hosted the first New York Art Book Fair. The conference organizers approached Printed Matter about coordinating the conference to be the same weekend as the fair. Three years of planning led to the first Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference held on day one at the Museum of Modern Art with the second day held at New York Public Library, while the New York Art Book Fair was held at Phillips de Pury auction house. Following success of the program, all of the organizers decided to host the conference again the following year. Starting in 2009, and every year through 2016, the conference has been held at MOMA’s PS 1 Contemporary Art Center each fall as part of the New York Art Book Fair. Tony White has moderated and coordinated a criticism panel every year of the conference, including selecting books and topics, and inviting all panelists.

For the 2008 conference the first criticism panel focused on the state of criticism (and lack there of) for artists’ books. This panel included presentations by Buzz Spector, Cornelia Lauf, and Elisabeth Long, and was held at the midtown Manhattan location of the Museum of Modern Art.

For the 2009 conference White decided to create a new format for the criticism panel whereby he chose a single artist book and invite three panelists to each present on that book. The primary conceit was that speakers were asked not to coordinate their papers. The goal was to have three independent critical presentations of the same work. This seemingly simple concept presented some challenges.  Some artists’ books selected were out of print. So invited speakers had to live in a city where they had access to a library that could make the book(s) available for viewing. Or for books still in print, titles had to be mailed to panelists with the expectation that they books would be returned.

The 2009 conference description: “Furthering the Critical Dialogue. This session continues with a key theme from the 2008 conference: the state of artists’ books criticism. Exemplifying diverse approaches to criticism, speakers will discuss 2-3 artists’ books each, with one book in common among them.  Panelists will not discuss the ‘state of artists’ books criticism,’ per se, but instead will focus on engaging in a critical evaluation and discussion their selected artists’ books. ”At this conference invited panelists (Clifton Meador, Michelle Strizever, Sarah Hulsey) were asked to discuss Tom Philips’ “A Humument”.  Meador used Google Scholar to overlay original text pages over Philips’ drawing to show which texts he covered up. Strizever, with a background in textual analysis, was the only presenter to realize that each new edition of “A Humument” is different. Hulsey provided a linguistic analysis of the book. 

The 2010 conference description for the criticism panel was updated: “Furthering the Critical Dialogue.  This session continues with a key theme from the 2008 conference: the state of artists’ books criticism. Exemplifying diverse approaches to criticism, speakers will discuss book(s) in common among them.  Panelists will not discuss the ‘state of artists’ books criticism,’ per se, but instead will focus on engaging in a critical evaluation and discussion the selected artists’ book(s).” For the panel this year four speakers were invited and two books discussed, each by two panelists. Tate Shaw and Karen Schiff discussed Dieter Roth’s “246 Little Clouds”, both the Something Else Press edition and the later edition by Hansjorg Mayer. And Susan Viguers and Kathleen Walkup discussed Ann Tyler’s “Billy Rabbit”.

The description for the 2011 conference was adjusted slightly to read: “Furthering the Critical Dialogue. This session continues with a key theme from previous conferences: the state of artists’ books criticism. Exemplifying diverse approaches to criticism, speakers will discuss a book in common among them. Panelists will not discuss the ‘state of artists’ books criticism,’ per se, but instead will focus on engaging in a critical evaluation and discussion the selected artists’ book(s).” For 2011 two books were selected for the panelists to discuss and evaluate: Ofer Wolberger’s “Visitor” and Bill Burke’s “I want to take picture”.  The speakers included Victor Sira, Doro Boehme, and Karen Wirth.

The description for the 2012 conference was listed on the conference website using the same that was listed for 2011.  Only the book and speakers changed. For the 2012 panel Gretchen E. Henderson, Nancy Princenthal, and Kyle Schlesinger discussed the print and electronic versions of Paul Chan’s “What is a book”. 

And again for the 2013 conference the session description remained unchanged. This year the book selected for discussion was Michael Snow’s “Cover to Cover”. Panelists included Philip Zimmermann, Jon Evans, and Jennifer Krivickas.

For the 2014 criticism panel the following description was included on the conference website: “This session, in its seventh year, continues with a key theme from all previous conferences: the state of artists’ books criticism. Exemplifying diverse approaches to criticism, speakers will discuss selected books by Phil Zimmermann. Panelists will not discuss the ‘state of artists’ books criticism,’ per se, but instead will focus on engaging in a critical evaluation and discussion of books by this designer / artist.” Panelists—Cynthia Marsh, Leslie Atzmon, Emily McVarish—were asked to discuss the books by Philip Zimmermann. They could include any of this books, but were asked to include discussion of “High Tension” and “Nature Abhors”.

For the 2015 criticism panel the following description was posted on the conference website: “Furthering the Critical Dialogue. ­This session, in its eighth year, continues with a key theme from all previous conferences: the state of artists’ books criticism. Exemplifying diverse approaches to criticism, speakers will discuss selected books by Veronika Schapers, with a special focus on her book: "26°57,3'N, 142°16,8'E". Panelists will not discuss the ‘state of artists’ books criticism,’ per se, but instead will focus on engaging in a critical evaluation and discussion of books by this book artist.” Panelists included Mark Dimunation, Lynn Maliszewski, and Peter Koch.

And for the most recent criticism panel in 2016 the session description on the conference website read: “Furthering the Critical Dialogue. This session will focus on the state of criticism in relation to artists’ books and independent publishing. Exemplifying diverse approaches to the practice of criticism, rather than speculate on the state of criticism per se. The panelists will discuss and evaluate two books by Ed Ruscha: Twenty Six Gasoline Stations and Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Chaired by Tony White, participants include: Russet Lederman, Ian McDermott, and Anne Thurman-Jajes.”

Planning for the 2017 conference began in March, and the conference will again include the criticism panel.  The format is popular among the audience, and both challenging and engaging for the panelists will remain unchanged.

 

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