The first edition of BOOKS is underway. Bologna art book festival | Interview with Lorenzo Balbi

The first edition of an art and publishing fair focused on artists’ books has started in the Sala delle Ciminiere of MAMbo, with a rich program of events and exhibition focuses.

Paolo Ventura, Guide image BOOKS 2023

From Friday 26 to Sunday 28 May 2023 the Sala delle Ciminiere del MAMbo – Museum of Modern Art of Bologna hosts the first edition of BOOKS, a festival dedicated to art and artists’ books curated by Daniel Montanari And Lorenzo Balbi, according to an experimental formula that combines the market component with that of historical-artistic study. We talked about it with Lorenzo Balbi.

Federico Abate: How did the idea of BOOKS? Why did you feel the need for a festival dedicated to artists’ books?

Lorenzo Balbi: Fairs dedicated to artists’ books are a consolidated reality in many important museums on an international level; just think of Printed Matter at MoMA PS1 and Offprint at the Tate’s Turbine Hall. The art book, by its very nature, is an expressive tool widely used by artists but not very usable in museum spaces due to its delicacy, therefore occasions such as these allow the public to be in a position to come into contact in an unprecedented way with this type of work. We had in mind for some time to propose a fair of this type, but due to COVID we were forced to postpone it. Finally this year we arrive at the zero edition, which is meant to be an experiment. However, it must be said that we also collect the legacy of some Italian events that have been very important for artists’ books, such as Artelibro, the Art Book Festival which took place in Bologna from 2003 to 2014, and FLAT – Turin Art Book Fair, which was held from 2017 to 2019. We know that there is great interest in Italy regarding artists’ books from art historians and enthusiasts, but also from collectors.

FA: The project is therefore aimed at a varied public, also declaring a certain attention to the panorama of collecting relating to this specific market segment.

LB: BOOKS has a dual soul. On the one hand it is a fair, so collectors and enthusiasts will have their fill because there will be around forty exhibitors selling books, art objects, limited editions and multiples. On the other hand, there will also be an important exhibition section, with focus areas dedicated to artists who have used and still use the book as a privileged means of expression: Franco Vaccari, Paul Ventura, Luigi Ghirri, Jacopo Benassi, Maurizio Nannucci, Daniela Comanithe five books resulting from the collaboration in the seventies between Claudius Parmiggiani And Mario Deacon. There will also be a posthumous tribute to the artist Irma Blank, disappeared a few days ago. Another focus will be dedicated to George Maffei and his “books about books”, dedicated to works of this type created by artists such as Bruno Munari, Alighiero Boetti and Sol LeWitt.

Luigi Ghirri, 1979 and Luigi Ghirri, The profile of the clouds1989

FA: The very layout of the spaces that you envisaged reflects the dual soul of BOOKS.

LB: Yes, absolutely: the exhibitors will be present in the Sala delle Ciminiere, while the focuses will be organized in the side gallery. There will also be a space dedicated to talks involving artists and publishers active in the art book market. The program includes a schedule of meetings that combines book presentations, talks with artists and conferences. Among the many events, it is absolutely worth mentioning the lesson that will be held on the afternoon of Friday 26 May by Anne Moeglin-Delcroixmaximum authority on the subject and author of the fundamental volume in 1997 Esthétique du livre d’artiste, 1960-1980. Ours is above all a public museum, so we have a sense of responsibility towards visitors as regards the theoretical and historical-artistic study of the issues connected to our projects. Another important appointment will be meeting with Daniela Comani: in addition to presenting his work, consisting of an intense activity of producing artists’ books, he will unveil a permanent work entitled Orlando’s Library which has already been set up in the space in front of the entrance to the MAMbo library, thanks to the support of the Trust for Contemporary Art. Orlando’s Librarywhich makes use of the reference to the photographic series Editorial news by Daniela Comani (2007-ongoing), consists of a trompe-l’oeil showing a fake shelving, whose books have all been changed by the artist by veering and subverting the genre of the title – with results such as The Karamazov sisters, The little princess And Six characters in search of an author.

FA: The project involves collaboration with the city’s galleries and cultural institutions. How will these collaborations be structured?

LB: MAMbo has always been very close to the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries of Bologna and our collaboration is renewed on this occasion too, because some galleries will be present as exhibitors, as well as coordinators of some exhibition focuses. They also provide important help from the point of view of involving the world of Bolognese collecting. In this regard, I would also like to thank Danilo Montanari who is curating this festival together with me. He is certainly a true artist’s book expert, as publisher, collector and enthusiast; thanks to him we were able to involve an unexpected number of exhibitors. We have recorded a very positive response to this experiment. Furthermore, Giovanna Pesci, who was one of the organizers of Arte Libro, is also part of the scientific committee, so we can also count on her direct experience. We really hope that this experiment will be successful and that it will be only the first of many future editions of the festival.

Mario Diacono, Claudio Parmiggiani, Annunciation1977
George Maffei, Munari’s books2015

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