Writing during the millennium, not long after the installation of Antony Gormley’s The Angel of the North
, artist and publisher Simon Cutts criticised the dominance of monumentalism within the field of public art. Decrying the lack of critical engagement offered by public sculpture, he called for an alternative approach, focussed upon process rather than product. Almost two decades later, it could be argued that mainstream understandings of public art have expanded to incorporate more ephemeral approaches, such as performance, sound art and social interventions. Within this context, the artist’s book has come to occupy a significant role within the production, dissemination and interpretation of such work. This has been accompanied by a growing interest in the artist’s book as a public artwork in its own right. These two distinct yet interrelated approaches form the subject of our essay. Drawing on examples of artists’ books held in the Special Collections at Manchester Metropolitan University and the library collections at Henry Moore Institute as well as from our own curatorial practice, we argue that, far from ancillary artefacts, artists’ books play a pivotal role within the production of public art and provide an important space in which to critically engage with the complexities of place.
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