Putting meaning into Contemporary Livre d’Artiste

I’ve decided to contrast two books, The WunderCabinet and Wordswordswords to demonstrate how they either align or go against Zweig and Drucker’s criteria.

I think The WunderCabinet: The Curious Worlds of Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen (Heavenly Monkey Editions, 2011) would fit Drucker’s criteria as a “creative use of the book format.” The WunderCabinet is Hodgson and Cohen’s idea of what 16th-to-18th century wonder cabinet collection of natural and manmade objects. It stretches beyond the pages of a more “conventional” Livre d’Artiste, and is presented instead as an inlaid wooden box. Inside each compartment is a unique and delicate object, such as a shark’s tooth, fossilized coral and glass eyeball. It’s divided into two parts, Naturalia and Artificialia and engages the viewer in a very different way, causing them to carefully and curiously examine each artifact that was handpicked or hand drawn.


Zweig’s critique asks us to acknowledge whether the book “present[s] a new way of thinking”. Because of its one-of-a-kind detail, extraordinary bookbinding, and concept as a modern Renaissance wonder cabinet, I think it pushes our curiosities as an artist’s book. It embraces nostalgia and a sense of the old world in a new, tangible way. For those who happen to have access to the thirty copies in the series, the tactile quality to the book allows you to directly interact with the materials, unlike a typical experience in a museum. However, my one critique would be that the fragileness and limited accessibility does create a barrier to this particular artist’s book, which isn’t uncommon among Livre d’Artiste books.

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For many in the course, Wordswordswords by Edwin Schlossberg (Universal Limited Art Edition, 1068) seems to be a favorite from Book sets 5 & 6. Yet, personally, I wouldn’t bring it with me on a desert island, and I don’t think Zweig would either. I can appreciate the role that the physical materials have, and the immediate tangible experience that unfolds, but to me, it lacks the curiosity and unique experience that The WunderCabinet gives viewers. I think the tangibility and interaction between book and viewer gave more meaning for me with Hodgson and Cohen’s work than it did for turning the pages of Edwin Schlossberg’s Wordswordswords. Yet, I think Drucker would find its structure and materials intriguing. It’s true – I will give it credit for bringing diversity in material, and it looks interesting.


Personally, I find that Wordswordswords has a more “art” feel than it does as a book. While the WunderCabinet certainly doesn’t have a deep underlying message of political and social change, it does teach us something about scientific reasoning and neo-Renaissance ideas in a physical, engaging way.

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