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When books become works of art in their own right


The artists selected by Picture Books have carte blanche to design an image related to the plot of the new imprint's books. — Picture courtesy of Gagosian
The artists selected by Picture Books have carte blanche to design an image related to the plot of the new imprint’s books. — Picture courtesy of Gagosian

NEW YORK, Nov 23 — For Gagosian, books can be works of art like any other. That’s why the mega-gallery is launching a new imprint called Picture Books in December, publishing works of fiction with visual contributions from contemporary artists.

American novelist Emma Cline is at the origin of this new imprint, which seeks to bring

together art and fiction. “While writers often engage with art and artists in the form of a catalog essay or a critical review, there was no equivalent platform for artists to respond to a work of fiction,” she explains in a statement. 

The author of The Girls and Daddy invited several writers and visual artists to collaborate ahead of new novel releases. Each artist was given carte blanche to design an image related to the plot of the book. The resulting image will be included in the book in the form of a poster.

Peter Mendelsund, creative director of The Atlantic, will design all the covers of the books published by Picture Books. “As someone who has spent much of his adult life making pictures and writing books, I’m naturally invested in understanding the intersection of these two media (and interested in understanding the limits of each; what can’t words show, and what can’t art say?),” he said. 

My New Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh and Grand Canyon, Inc. by Percival Everett will be the first two titles published by Picture Books. The first will be accompanied by The down payment, an oil painting by Issy Wood depicting the novel’s main character, Jerome Littlefield. The second will include a photograph of Monument Valley from the Original Cowboy series by Richard Prince.

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Giving art books a boost

Picture Books novels will be available in the Gagosian e-store, as well as in the mega-gallery’s New York store and in selected bookstores. This imprint is the latest publishing-world venture from Gagosian, which publishes between 25 and 40 books a year. “My gallery has long published books on artists by celebrated writers and thinkers. When Emma Cline approached me about creating an imprint that would invite artists to create new images in response to works of literature, it immediately resonated,” explains the art dealer Larry Gagosian. “Bringing creators together in this unique way adds another dimension to the gallery’s innovative and expansive publishing program.”

The art book market hasn’t been spared by the pandemic, with the prolonged closure of museums and other cultural venues having heavily impacted sales.

The cancellation of fairs dedicated to art books has also weakened this niche sector. The Printed Matter association decided to use digital technology to continue to raise public awareness about “artwork in book form,” as it has since its creation in 1976. The nonprofit staged its first Virtual Art Book Fair at the end of February. “We love our IRL fairs, and we miss seeing this community and our visitors together in one place,” director of fairs and editions at Printed Matter, Sonel Breslav, told The Art Newspaper. “At the same time, this fair is more accessible and international than it’s ever been in the past. We are excited about the future that we hope will be a combination of both.” — ETX Studio





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