Strange Artist’s Books from the Travel to Berlin in 2017

Berlin 2017

In the beginning of December 2017 we drove to Torun (Poland) to see the exhibition of David Lynch “Silence and Dynamism”. From Torun it was “near” Berlin – 7 hours driving. So we drove our car to Berlin to see the exhibitions. Like always it is very nice to be in Berlin, so dirty and underground town (if I remembering well many many years ago Berlin was very clean), even the hotel was bad and expensive. Here we have seen the exhibition “The Art of Banksy”. Hm, not commercial illegal art with help of “friends” become very commercial.

"The Art of Banksy" in Berlin

In Martin-Gropius-Bau we have seen exhibition of young, provocative and “famous” artist Ed Atkins and the exhibition of strange artist Wenzel Hablik “Expressionistische Utopien”… Here I “found” nice art object – an artist’s book “Tapetenkollektion” (“Wallpaper Collection”) made in 1929. it has 96 sheets of original wallpaper and wooden cover.

Artist's book of Wenzel Hablik "Wallpaper Collection" 1926

We should say it is not an artist’s book, because it was created not as an artist’s book. It was only the collection of wall papers for installing the rooms.

Wenzel Hablik - installation

Maybe that is truth, he didn’t created an artist’s book, but now it is the artist’s book, like many artist’s books from the 19th-20th centuries. For example artist’s books from the book “A Century of Artists Books” by Riva Castleman: “Noa Noa” of Paul Gauguin created in 1893-94, or “Yvette Guilbert” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were not created as an artist’s books, but now they are “the first created artist’s books”…

And what about William Blake and his self published poetry “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” in 1789? He was writing and “illustrating” his poetry by himself with help of his wife. He coloured all his prints by hand, and in each year the colours of the same illustration are different. Now many artists create like William Blake in 18th century.

William Blake "Songs of Innocence and of Experience". 1789, hand coloured intaglio

From the “4th Artist’s Book Triennial Vilnius 2006” I remember the artist’s book of Estonian artist Lennart Mand made from the wall papers, which I would say is deeply connected with the book of Wenzel Hablik.

Lennart Mand "All about rabbits without leaving the house". 2006, print on wall paperFrom the museum Martin-Gropius-Bau we went to another wonderful museum “Stiftung Olbricht”, where I never have been and which shows the “Masterworks from the National Gallery of Australia” the exhibition “Indigenous Australia”. Wonderful exhibition, but like in all museum it is not allowed to take pictures... so I have made not so many.

Exhibition "Indigenous Australia"

And here I “found” another wonderful artist’s book, made also in 19th century. Tommy McRae “Sketchbook of Aboriginal Ceremonies…”

Tommy McRae

Tommy McRae "Sketchbook of Aboriginal ceremonies...". 1880, drawings with pen and ink

This is a black-and-white drawing by an Indigenous Australian artist, Tommy McRae, produced in 1880. Tommy McRae (c1823-1901) – also known as Tommy Barnes, Yakaduna, and ‘Chief of the Wahgunyah tribe’, McRae produced the majority of his surviving work at Wahgunyah, in north-central Victoria, in the 1880s and 1890s; his subjects were mainly Indigenous Australian ceremonies, hunting and fighting.

Tommy McRae

Staged portrait of an Aboriginal Australian family dressed in tradtional attire. The man is pointing in accusation at the woman, who cradles a baby with noticeably pale skin. These staged photographs say more about the photographer and European conceptions of Indigenous people than about the traditional practices of Indigenous people themselves. The people in this image are members of Tommy McRae's community.

And how not remembering a wonderful artist’s book of Lois Palframan “Life book” from the “5th Artist’s Book Triennial Vilnius 2009” full of images made with pencil and watercolour.

Lois Palframan "Life book". 2008In the same museum, in the second floor, was very strange exhibition “Wunderkammer Olbricht” “Astonishment, discovery, understanding”. All collection of works from the Middle Ages till now like on theme “Memento Mori”. Beautiful and very strange collection with very small skulls and paintings, some “boxes” with many art artefacts.

"Wunderkammer Olbricht"

In the exhibition were few books, or I would say old artist’s book… It were books of Joachim Johann Nepomuk Anton Spalowsky (1752-1797) “The Natural History of Birds”, published in 1790-1792. 9 hand-coloured engraved plates of arms, and 130 hand-coloured engraved plates, the birds presented within a water- and bodycolour landscape without engraved backing and extending into the broad margins beyond the plate mark, each plate numbered in the top right-hand corner and captioned in Latin and German in the lower margin in red manuscript. Books printed in the same time like book of William Blake, and coloured by hand. If we now would had the time and would create such book with birds, or flowers, or…, we would call it conceptual artist’s book. So, even if we are “very conceptual persons”, we have no time to create conceptual artist’s book like did artists before as…

 "The Natural History of Birds". 1790-1792 "The Natural History of Birds". 1790-1792 "The Natural History of Birds". 1790-1792

In one day in Berlin I have found several wonderful and beautiful artist’s books connected with the contemporary artist’s books. Not so bad travel, even in 3 days I had to make 2200 km.


Traveller Kestutis Vasiliunas