From Pages to Sculpture: Artists’ Books 1430 to the Present


Performance by Yuri Albert ‘Tour for the Blindfolded’ at the National Gallery, London: Thursday 19 October 2017, 16.00 – 17.30

Artists Talk: Thursday 19 October 2017, 18.30 – 20.00
Yuri Albert and Algirdas Seskus on Materiality of The Book. Moderated by Professor Sarah Wilson


White Space Gallery is pleased to announce Artists’ Books, 1430 to the Present, including artists’ books, prints, paintings and a fifteenth century illuminated manuscript. The grouping invokes the legacy of Futurist, Dada, Surrealist, Fluxus, and prominently, Western conceptualist experiments which utilized the textual object and the processes inherent to language and publicity. We recall John Latham’s use of the book as a sculptural medium, implying a nullification of implicit textual signification. Most pertinent to mention perhaps is Marcel Broodthaers’ ‘first’ visual art object, Pense-bête (Memory Aid, 1964). Taking the last unsold copies of his book of poems, he affixed the copies in plaster, rendering the books unreadable, constituting a poetic and sculptural object. The exhibition includes work by Yuri Albert, Tatiana Antoshina, Babi Badalov, Mikhail Grobman, Ilya Kabakov, Algirdas Šeškus, Lihie Talmor, and—a relevant anachronism—the Masters of Otto van Moerdrecht, spanning a wide geographic and temporal range of experimentation.

Included in the exhibition is an illuminated Flemish manuscript on Vellum by the Masters of Otto van Moerdrecht (c.1430), produced for use in Sarum (Salisbury), England. This early Book of Hours (prayer book) was compiled by the Masters to appeal specifically to the English market. While produced for radically different purposes than the other exhibited works, the manuscript demonstrates an early incredible exploration of textual illustration—one that sets a precedent for the artists’ book as form.

Centuries later, Yuri Albert one of the most ‘consistent’ of the Moscow Conceptualist group, also employed the book as form. He presents a group of paintings made with the ash of various burned books including Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Anton Chekhov’s short stories, invoking the conceptual legacy outlined above. In addition, he contributes a work from his Books for the Blind, in which descriptions of paintings are displayed in printed form. The objects mimic a Minimalist aesthetic while providing a different kind of non-visual content: descriptions of art works in braille. Mikhail Grobman similarly invokes the book as material and as object, but rather than interrogating textual and visual processes contained within its pages, he rips off the books’ covers to use as a support for a painting. The support then contains a lost narrative interwoven with his painted images. Also included are a series of lithographs produced with Ilya Kabakov titled The Beautiful Sixties (1969-1989), taking the illustrated page as template.

Departing from textual analyses of the book, Tatiana Antoshina’s contribution is a series of embroidered pages, ‘bound’ in a ring binder. The Frog Prince (1999) recounts a version of the Beauty and the Beast parable, adapted by Antoshina to take place in a magical realist version of late-1990s Russia. After a frog is transformed into a beautiful prince by the proverbial kiss, the protagonist and her suitor live together and their ‘estate grows’. She employs a form of craft labour to rewrite a traditional fairy-tale for a new context, and in doing so emphasizes the materiality of the textual object, laboriously stitched by hand. Šeškus takes a different approach, using computer-edited images to piece together a visual narrative. His Tree for a Sleeping Bird (2017), part of his recent practice creating thin notebooks called New Time, is comprised of quotidian photographs, manipulated until they resemble pixelated impressionist canvases or ‘filtered’ internet content.

Lihie Talmor’s Aguariacuar: The Departure (1993) is an artists’ book comprised of a series of etchings produced from photographs taken at San Lorenzo de Aguariacuar in Venezuela: the site of an uncompleted catholic church on indigenous lands. The photographs are then supplemented with painted treatment: abstract strokes that seem to wash time and space over the desolate land, invoking a colonialist past/present that severs memory from place. The pages, contained in a wooden frame, can be assembled at the will of the spectator, allowing her to order the etchings at will. Lastly, Azerbaijani artist Babi Badalov, living in exile in Paris, often describes that he uses text to paint and draw. Like early twentieth century experiments with poetry, such as Futurist parole in libertá (words in freedom), Badalov combines natural language and illustrations to structure notebooks that endeavour broad ruminations on identity, exile, and home, among other themes.

The textual, painted, devotional, and non-medium specific objects displayed in the exhibition demonstrate a wide range of experiments with the printed book: its structure, materiality, narratives, and forms. Taken together, the artists constitute a broad swathe of time and space, and provide a wide examination of how the book as object, as medium, and as a repository for memory, remains a major site of artistic production.


Yuri Albert (b. 1959, Moscow) was a student of Ekaterina Arnold and completed teacher’s training degree in Moscow in 70s. In 80s he became a Member of Club of Avantgardists (CLAVA). Received Krasner-Pollock Foundation grant in 2000 and Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in 2001. Curated “Exhibition of Young Artists”, I Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, 2008. Received the 2011 Kandinsky Prize and the Innovation Prize in 2013. Solo exhibitions include: 2017 The Gang. (Artistic co-op Cupid – with P. Davtyan, A. Filippov, V. Skersis) and 2015 I Need to Tell You So Much with My Art. Stella Art Foundation, Moscow; 2013-14 What did the artist mean by that? MOMA, Moscow; Selbstportrait mit geschlossenen Augen. Haus der Niederlande, Münster, 1999. His works are in the collections of Centre Pompidou, Paris; Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery and National Center for Contemporary Arts, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg, museum collections in Helsinki, Budapest, New Jersey, among others. He lives and works in Moscow and Cologne.

Tatiana Antoshina (b. Krasnoyarsk, Russia) is one of the most significant Russian female artists since Perestroika. Her work explores the role of women artists in society and in art history and was exhibited in the iconic ‘After the Wall’ exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; ‘Gender Check’, MUMOK, Vienna; and the 56th Venice Biennale. Her works are in the collections of MUMOK, Vienna; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington; Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen; State Russian Museum, St Petersburg; and The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Antoshina lives and works in Moscow.

Babi Badalov (b.1959, Lerik, Azerbaijan) defines his work as ‘visual poetry’ and ‘painting with words.’ He recently took part in the Ural Industrial Biennale; made an installation in Palais du Tokyo, Paris; took part in ‘To Make Art to Take Clothes Off’, MUSAC, Leon, Spain; and participated in the 11th Gwangju Biennale. His works are in the collections of the Russian Museum, St Petersburg; MuHKA Museum Contemporary Art, Antwerp; Azerbaijan State Museum of Art in Baku, Azerbaïjan; Kunstmuseum of Emden; Martigny Art Museum; Oetcker Collection in Bielefeld; Arina Kowner Collection in Zurich; and the Zimmerli Art Museum, New Jersey, USA. He lives and works in Paris.

Mikhail Grobman (b. 1939, Moscow) lives and works in Tel Aviv. Grobman has written poetry, essays, and children’s books since the 1950s. A few years later he began painting and joined the Lianozovo group and took part in Samizdat movement. Since the 1960s he was a member of The Second Avant-garde. In 1971 he emigrated from the USSR to Israel and started publishing the magazine and founded Leviathan art group. The use of text is very important in Grobman’s art, he writes minimalist poems and ‘visual verses’ consisting of magazine headings, and transforms old book covers into poetic texts. He has had solo exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 1971; Art Museum, Bochum, Germany, 1988; The State Russian Museum, 1999; MOMA, Moscow, 2014. His works are in the collections of ART4RU Museum, Moscow; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Art Museum, Bochum; Museum of Modern Art, Bochum; Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund; Museum of Modern Art, Utrecht; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; Art4Ru Museum; The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ilya Kabakov was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, in 1933. He studied at the VA Surikov Art Academy in Moscow, and began his career as a children’s book illustrator during the 1950’s. He was part of a group of Conceptual artists in Moscow who worked outside the official Soviet art system. In 1985 he received his first solo show exhibition at Dina Vierny Gallery, Paris, and he moved to the West two years later taking up a six-month residency at Kunstverein Graz, Austria. In 1988, Kabakov began working with his future wife Emilia (they were to be married in 1992). From this point onwards all their work was collaborative, in different proportions according to the specific project involved. Today Kabakov is recognized as one of the most important Russian artists to have emerged in the late twentieth century. His installations speak as much about conditions post-Stalinist Russia as they do about the human condition universally. His retrospective opens at Tate Modern in October 2017.

Algirdas Šeškus (b. Lithuania, 1945) spent thirty working as a cameraman on a Soviet TV and radio, and cultivated a broad and diverse approach to photography. Rather than follow specific themes or concepts, he chose the aesthetics of amateurism instead. His work has influenced many photographers from the former Soviet Union, including Boris Mikhailov. In 1985, he moved away from photography and began to focus on visual art. Šeškus started photographing again in 2010, recently publishing new work as a series of thin notebooks called ‘New Time.’ In 2010 he was the subject of a major retrospective at the National Art Gallery of Lithuania. His work was also included in documenta 14.

Lihie Talmor (b. Tel-Aviv, 1944) studied Urban Planning and Poetics and Comparative Literature. In the 1970s, she began teaching at the University of Israel and studied painting with Israeli painter Pinchas Abramovitch. From 1981 she studied at the Center of Studies for the Graphic Arts (CEGRA) in Caracas, Venezuela, and painted at Walter Margulis’ studio. She lives and works in Israel and Venezuela in the fields of printmaking, sculpture, and photography. She has shown in ‘Collective Memory’, Works from the Collection, Coro Museum of Art, Coro, Venezuela; MAKOM, MACZUL, Zulia Museum of Contemporary Art, Maracaibo, Venezuela; Sephardic Museum, Caracas, Venezuela.

Masters of Otto van Moerdrecht Flanders are a group of illuminators active in the Northern Netherlands between roughly the 1420s and 1460s. They can be counted amongst the most important artists of the first half of the 15th century. The style of the Moerdrecht Masters was relatively easy to imitate, and this may be the reason why it spread so quickly. Several workshops working in the Moerdrecht-style can be distinguished, scattered over the regions of Utrecht, Holland, Brabant, and in cities along the river IJssel. They employed simplified, elongated figures set in summary landscapes against sparkling skies of burnished gold. Most likely, members of the Otto van Moerdrecht Master’s workshop had moved to Bruges because of the 1427 enactment of the law that put an end to exporting single leaf miniatures from Utrecht to Bruges, where the market for book production was booming, especially for English commissions.