Libro de horas, Fernando Zóbel
Libro de horas, Fernando Zóbel.
Manila, Fernando Zóbel, 1965.
Collection of the Fundación Juan March

As noted earlier, the works selected for exhibition have in common their provenance from the collection of the Juan March Foundation, however, they followed distinct paths to their final destination. On one hand, many objects came into the collection thanks to the activity of the Foundation, responsible for acquiring works and frequently promoting the production of graphic art. On the other hand, a wealth of objects came in the form of donations from two great book lovers, Fernando Zóbel and Julio Cortázar.

Fernando Zóbel (Manila, 1924 - Rome, 1984) completed his doctoral studies in art, history and literature at Harvard University in 1949. In 1961 he moved to Spain permanently and began to collect art works by Spanish artists of his generation, which would later on constitute the nucleus of the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, opening in Cuenca's Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) in 1966.

Together with his passion for painting, Zóbel's interest in books started early on. At Harvard he was named Honorary Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, a fact that would mark a lifetime of activity as a publisher and bibliophile. Following in the footsteps of his Harvard mentor Philip Hofer, Zóbel specialized in incunabula and rare books and manuscripts, allowing him to gain advanced knowledge in the theory and cataloguing of the graphic techniques used in paper production. This scholarly zeal became a passion for collecting – beginning with classic prints – which Zóbel would cultivate during the rest of his life. The Juan March Foundation holds in its collection more than 2,000 books from the personal library of Zóbel. The current exhibition showcases selected works from this library, works that may be considered "artists' books", or those that border on the genre.

Zóbel would continue to fulfill his "biblomania" at the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, Cuenca, which he founded in 1966 and where he promoted publishing activities and was responsible for the publication of artists' books, photo-books, and portfolios of graphic works. A stand-out among the projects completed is an edition of silk-screen prints by artists Manolo Millares, Manuel Hernández Mompó and Eusebio Sempere, created under the tutelage of Abel Martín. The museum's publishing activity did not constitute, however, an isolated incident; during these years a similar labor was carried out by a series of publishing houses and galleries dedicated to the creation and diffusion of graphic art, among them the Grupo Quince, the Galería Juana Mordó, the Sala Gaspar, the Galería René Metras and the publishing houses Casariego and Gustavo Gili. These sites, and many others, are responsible for some of the works displayed in this exhibition., Antoni Tàpies, Joan Brossa, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Brossa.
Barcelona, Sala Gaspar, 1965. Collection of the Fundación Juan March

Writers and poets enter the terrain of the visual arts in order to create a kind of total work of art, in which the aesthetic and literary values hold equal weight

The library of writer Julio Cortázar (Brussels, 1914 - Paris, 1984) was donated in 1993 to the Juan March Foundation by his widow, Aurora Bernárdez. Cortázar, like Zóbel, was a great bibliophile. Among the 3,786 titles (books and magazines) are various books featuring dedications from their authors (Rafael Alberti, Pablo Neruda, Juan Carlos Onetti, Octavio Paz and others), artists' books, art publications, illustrated books, etc. The Cortázar library brings a significant number of works to the exhibition, among them book-objects, almost sculpturally conceived, as well was illustrated books, fruit of the collaboration between creators from different fields; these examples demonstrate another facet of the work that results from interactions between artists and the world of the book. If sometimes it is the artist who appropriates the format and habitual support of literary production, other times the inverse process appears to be the case. Writers and poets enter the terrain of the visual arts in order to create a kind of total work of art, in which the aesthetic and literary values hold equal weight. They invent works that surpass the defined limits of pictorial and sculptural form. The very act of leafing through the pages of a book shapes a unique spatial-temporal sequence and aesthetic that is unlike the act of contemplating a painting or sculpture. It is, in short, an experience endowed with a different type of aura.

Artists' books, in all their comprehensiveness and ambiguous nature, confront habitual attitudes, both regarding the book as a simple medium for the transmission of content, and regarding the visual arts as activities held down to supports and procedures determined by tradition. The desire to demonstrate the conceptual and aesthetic richness of the exhibited works (rather than to simply classify them) accounts for the open nature of the cataloging and categorization of the exhibition.

Trois visions, Antonio Saura
Trois visions, Antonio Saura
Paris, Yves Rivière Éditeur, 1971. Collection of the Fundación Juan March

The amazement that some of these publications may provoke point to the profound influence these objects currently have and will continue to hold in the future. This is especially relevant now that new technologies are changing the publishing industry, questioning, like the artist's book, the paper support and the very materiality of the traditional book. The publications in this exhibition, are surprising for their novelty and mysterious character, their private language, their form and content (on occasion closed to comprehension or enjoyment), their conceptual instability and their very resistance to definition. (Also unusual is the mere fact of "exhibiting" that which was created, in theory, to be manipulated, read, opened, closed, leafed through, etc.).

Perhaps, regarding artists' books and publications of the last century up to the present day, one could paraphrase the German writer Kurt Tucholsky on Joyce's Ulysses: he opined that it was "pure liver extract. It is inedible," however, he added, "in the future many soups will be prepared thanks to it