Home » International Women’s Day: Artist Books by Women

International Women’s Day: Artist Books by Women

VoCA contributor Bill Clarke, a collector of art and artist books (see previous VoCA posts HERE and HERE) has come back once again with a wonderful post in honour of International Women’s Day.


Here is his blog post on a number of artist books by women artists that he has in his increasingly envy-inducing collection:

Dorothy Iannone: The Story of Bern (or Showing Colors), 1970. Self-published with Dieter Roth. Signed and numbered by Iannone (431/500 copies).

Dorothy Iannone’s colourful and boldly erotic paintings from the 1960s and early 70s seem to be gaining recognition lately. Her work was included in the revealing (in all senses of the word) “Women Pop Artists” show that toured the U.S. last year. Iannone met the artist Dieter Roth during a trip to Iceland in 1967, and they remained together until 1974. Drawn by Iannone in the format of a graphic novel, this book tells the story of the removal of Iannone’s work from an exhibition in Bern, Switzerland in 1969 because the gallery director, Harald Szeemann, felt that the sexual content would draw the attention of police. Roth stood by Iannone, threatening to withdraw his work from the exhibition if hers was not shown. Iannone’s work was removed, and this book documents the strained friendships, including Roth’s with Fluxus artist Daniel Spoerri (who sided with Szeemann), that resulted.

From Iannone’s book. All images courtesy Bill Clarke.

Annette Messager: Les Tortures Volontaires, 1974. Published by Bergs Forlag a.s. (122/600 copies).

French artist Annette Messager is known primarily as an installation artist. (Her installation at the French pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennial won the Golden Lion that year; her long-time partner, artist Christian Boltanski, just happens to be representing France at the Biennial this year.) This little book is an early critique of the beauty industry. In a mix of found images and self-portraits, the artist depicts women undergoing “voluntary torture” for the sake of physical attractiveness. Divided into five sections – titled “for my face” or “for my breasts” – the book features black and white images of mainly smiling women plastered in mud baths, astride stationary bikes, encased in constricting undergarments, or being poked, massaged and prodded by a range of somewhat frightening-looking devices.

Pages from Messager’s book.

Pages from Messager’s book.

Louise Lawler: Red, Blue and Black Books, 1978. Self-published, unsigned, edition size unknown.

American photographer Louise Lawler is known for her photographs rooted in forms of institutional critique. These three early interrelated books, however, come from a more mysterious and gendered place. I’ve not been able to find out much about them but, for me, the Red and Blue Books are about the notion of questioning what you see. They contain serial images of the backs of (supposedly) one red deck of cards and one blue, even though the pictures are in black and white. The Black book is equally cryptic. The text is from a script by Metro Pictures founder Janelle Reiring, and is based on an eyewitness’s account of the cabaret performer and rumoured spy Mata Hari’s execution by firing squad on Oct. 15, 1917. A single image of a black and white playing card appears part-way through the book. Again, this book asks us to question appearances. Perhaps, the idea is that nothing in art, as in history or life, is “black and white”.


Collier Schorr: Jens F., 2005. First edition with slipcase published by SteidlMACK; signed and numbered (520/1,000 copies).

Brooklyn-based photographer Collier Schorr is best known for her pictures of young men and women that combine elements of realism with fiction and fantasy. This book started as an experiment in which the artist produces a portrait of one person using the poses of another. In this case, Jens F., an adolescent German schoolboy, recreates the poses of Helga, the young housewife that Andrew Wyeth secretly painted portraits of for almost 20 years. Schorr took her photographs of Jens F. over the course of several years. His face and body mature over the course of the book, and the increasing comfort that he feels in front of the camera becomes apparent. The photographer then collaged her images of Jens F. with Wyeth’s paintings and sketches of Helga, creating a visually poetic examination of the intimacy that can develop between artist and subject.

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