Tufts Libraries: Books on Art and Books as Art

At the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, books take on many forms
young woman perusing the magazine collection at a library
B.F.A. student Liz Maelane, SMFA19, checks out magazines at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts library. Photo: Anna Miller
April 11, 2019

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Ray Bradbury once said in an interview, “Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.” For a series on libraries at the university, we’ve asked the librarians at Tufts’ many libraries to tell us about their collections—their most unusual items and best-kept secrets. Read about Tisch Library, Ginn Library, the Webster Family Library, the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, Digital Collections and Archives, and the Lilly Music Library, too.

At the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Darin Murphy, head of the library, did a deep dive into the collection to fill us in.

Focus of the collection. The collection of the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts focuses on contemporary art, art theory, and studio practices. We have additional special collections of artists’ books, photo art books, graphic novels, and zines.

Oldest book in the collection. Since our focus has always been contemporary art, the oldest book in our collection is Lessons on Trees, by J.D. Harding, which only dates to 1850. Even that was relatively contemporary when our library first began at the MFA in 1876.

Most checked out books: The books with the highest circulation are on or by Richard Diebenkorn, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Nan Goldin, Euan Uglow, Bill Burke, and Egon Schiele.

Most unusual items in the collection: We have a plethora of unusual/unique/strange items in our artists’ books collection. The book in that category that is getting the most attention at the moment is Ben Denzer’s 20 Slices, which is a beautiful little hardbound book comprised of twenty slices of American cheese.

Best-kept secret in the collection: Our best-kept secret is something we do not want to be a secret, namely our special collections—especially our artists’ books collection. There is a common misconception that artists’ books are only for artists, when really they are useful for most anyone as tools to reconceptualize subject matter. When Kevin Oye brought the Master’s of Science in Innovation and Management cohort from the Gordon Institute to visit our artists’ books collection, it made me want to meet with faculty and classes in every department of the university. The students’ engagement with the unexpected was so rewarding, and it served as a reminder that the impact of art can be useful to everyone.

Most interesting new addition to the collection. Perhaps the most interesting new addition to our collection is Romano Hänni’s It is bitter to leave your home, a story depicted in typographic images which deals with the tsunami and nuclear disaster which hit the Fukushima Prefecture in 2011. It is letterpress printed on paper towels, emphasizing the impossibility of ever cleaning up such profound disasters, both natural and human made.

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