Lucy Lippard is a writer and art critic who believes in art criticism as a form of social advocacy. She was one of the founders of Printed Matter in NYC. According to their mission statement, Printed Matter is the World’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination, understanding and appreciation of artist’s books.
In 1977, Lippard published a paper The Artist’s Book Goes Public in Art in America 65 no. 1. There she argues the gallery system had become too elitist, artists made art to please critics, and the public was cowed by the austere, cold, and inaccessible content of the conceptual art movement. She went on to claim that artist’s books have qualities that make them the perfect inoculation to prevent the gallery system against the creeping rot of utter irrelevance (my words not hers). Or as she put it, they are affordable, accessible, and reproducible, the opposite of the ailment afflicting the high art market.
This kind of thinking created a sub-category of AB known as the Democratic Multiple. Later accomplished painter and print maker Pat Steir, another of the thinkers responsible for the establishment of Printed Matter, enumerated it this way: the Democratic Multiple is an Artist’s Book that is
Beyond that I believe the AB is an art form, which excels when it surprises and subverts viewer’s expectations for the purpose of communication and expression.
My work in ABs has been heavily influenced by the democratic multiple. My most recently available artists book demonstrates many of the qualities Steir articulated. THE AFTERTHAWTS is a collection of collaborative ABs conceived, printed, and distributed by HeavyDuty Press. So far a copy has been placed at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Murphy Library, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison and at my favorite AB collection, and The Joan Flasch AB collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
I try to continue to work in ABs, even as I write novels. But the question I've been toying with is: Are novels actually a kind of Democratic Multiple. I'd like to think so.