Collecting Art Books

As a lifelong art student and graduate of Cranbrook Academy of Art (ought-four), I have a hard time passing up those huge art tomes in all their full-color, glossy-paged splendor. Of course, those $50 to $75 price tags often beg me to 'look don't touch' (or rather, touch / fondle / peruse, drool over, but don't buy).

Every so often, however, I come across an art book that I simply *MUST* have, regardless of how negative my bank balance is. My favorite of these impulse buys is I Send You This Cadmium Red...  correspondence between John Berger and John Christie. (Confession: I heart John Berger. I heart him big.) - original price tag: $50, now worth about $350.
"I Send You This Cadmium Red began in concept in February 1997, when Christie mused to Berger: 'What could our next project be?' Berger replied: 'Just send a color ' Soon after, a painted square of cadmium red crossed the English Channel, from Christie in London to Berger in France, and an amazing conversation began. The accompanying book reveals, in the form of letters, notes, small books, and drawings, their subsequent exchange of ideas on color."
Here's the thing about those big-assed art tomes, because they cost more to make and have a higher price tag - they usually don't come in big runs. If your local bookstore has ANY art section, they probably only have one copy of any given title (unless it's 'How to Draw Anime,' then all bets are off). And when that title is gone, it's usually gone for good.

I made the mistake of passing up two titles that I now regret every time I look at my collection of art books:

Ida Applebroog: Nothing Personal, Paintings 1987-1997

My grad-school roommate had a copy of this and I drooled over it for two years. I had the chance to order a copy for $50, but on my art-school budget, I mistakingly chose ramen instead. (Hey, $50 buys A LOT of ramen).

Copies, can still be found for $70 to $100 online (and, as soon as I'm done eating this ramen, I'll purchase one), but I'm betting you'll never see this in a bookstore.

The Architect's Brother, Robert ParkeHarrison

There were several print runs of this title, each one, however, was somewhat limited. The first print run was only 4,000 copies; the third and fourth print runs were 2,000 copies each (don't know about the 2d print run, but most likely it wasn't more than 4,000 copies).

Husband and wife team of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison masterfully create a series of striking, dream-like photos that allude to a narrative that is both familiar and just out of reach.

Good luck finding a *fine* copy (in any print run) for less than $150. It's not unheard of for first editions / first prints to fall in the range of $300+.


Taschen, Rizzoli, and Phaidon are the big publishers of art books these days. Visit any of their Websites and you can glean what books are destined to be collectibles and what books, most likely, are not. (Hint: the higher the price tag, the more collectible it is). Taschen, especially, likes to do special editions and limited runs, but be prepared to forego rent for a month (or two or three).

Also check out D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers) for a whole slew of contemporary art monographs.

And, as always, count on Abebooks to have information on a variety of artists and publishers' collections.

The number of art monographs / artists' books that are out there can be overwhelming, to say the least. I generally gravitate to the artists whose artwork speaks to me - regardless of what their collectibility is. Because of that, 2/3rds of the books in my collection are probably only worth the cover price (if that), but they make me happy.

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