The Joan Flasch Artistsʼ Book Collection, situated on the 5th floor of the Sharp Building on SAICʼs campus, feels like a hidden gem in a sprawling city landscape. You walk out of the elevator onto the fifth floor and go around the corner to see a cozy little room lined with shelves of books, artifacts, mystery boxes, and sculptures. The feeling of the room is one of both calm and excitement — the artwork is often laid out with the intention of being touched, opened, and perused by any curious art student, such that it would be easy to lose oneself in all the cultural splendor.
Though officially established in 1989, their extensive archive received creative contributions to the library dating back to the 1960s “when the
the library was accidentally collecting Fluxus and conceptual work that were part of exhibitions,” as April Sheridan, Special Collections Manager remarks.
The early collection included work that many artists thought could be an extension or alternative to gallery work; the medium gave artists more autonomy and independence over their creations.
Joan Flasch has over 13,000 pieces in its Artistsʼ Book Collection. Some of the earliest pieces date back to a delicate book called “Misfortunes of the Immortals” by Max Ernst and Paul Eluard, first published in 1922, although the library has a later edition
from 1946, while some of its most recent pieces include a 3D printed book titled “A Circle of Stones” by bex ya yolk published in 2022.
Sheridan stressed the importance of a “partnership between form and content” that runs deep into the selection of works. Works are chosen with an emphasis on design that changes how we view not only books but art.
What stands out about Joan Flaschʼs immense collection of artistsʼ books is the ambiguity of what constitutes a “book.” In response to a question about the reach of the Artistsʼ Book Collections into art books, music records, and sculptures, Sheridan explained: “Itʼs like an octopus,
everything you described is what we want to collect.”
She continues: “These books also choreograph the reader… this book is telling you how to open it, how to see it, how to view it… and weʼre so used to a very traditional way of opening a book, itʼs so built into our lives that things like this are really surprising.” From Sadie Woodsʼ “Service in this Bitch,” which acts as a music box playing a strip of painted parchment, to Julie Chenʼs “Radio Silence,” which folds out like an accordion, tactility and play imbue the experience of using a book.
Sheridan placed emphasis on the tactility of the art experience in viewing the work: “You can go over across the street to the museum, and thatʼs one thing, youʼre walking around, youʼre looking at sculptures, youʼre looking at things hanging on the wall, but here, itʼs actually really hands-on and I think that thatʼs an important thing for artists to encounter as theyʼre learning more about materials.” Books such as Doh Ho Sunʼs “untitled,” emphasizes, for instance, the act of holding a book using a glass mold of two open palms. The act of reading
becomes an art experience itself as the artist animates the activity of reading.
After telling our team about a golden box that contained a chocolate anal sphincter, Sheridan exclaimed: “It’s an art school, come on! Be shocked in a while.” Never have words wrung truer: the privilege of this art education and its access to these collections means that the objects you behold will never stop surprising you.
The Joan Flasch Special Collection sources its books from places like Printed Matter (specifically from their organized yearly New
York Art Book Fair) as well as Inga Books and BUDDY from the Chicago Cultural Center. The collection boasts a highly diverse and inter-
the national spectrum of work. “We have a very large international community of students here. We want the collection to be able to
reflect that, so our books [include] over 63 different languages.”
For their upcoming renovations beginning Apr. 1, the Joan Flasch Special Collections will be increasing storage facilities and opening the
reading section up to accommodate a larger capacity of students. The new renovations will act as a way of giving more space to both an increasing archive of work, as well as greater space for reading rooms, and class visits. The renovations are expected to be finished in the upcoming fall semester.