There’s only a drop or two of blood on paper, in this unassuming but exquisite show of artists’ books. You’ll find the red stuff in Stains, an ultra-ironic, methodical volume of marks on the white stuff produced by various everyday substances from the cult American conceptual painter Ed Ruscha.
Still, to make up for the shortage of blood there is gunpowder on paper from the Chinese artist Cai Guo Caing, cracked earth on paper from Anselm Kiefer, dried mud on paper from Richard Long, fabric as paper from Louise Bourgeois, a laser-cut fissure through a pile of paper by Anish Kapoor and plenty of lithographer’s ink on paper from a fairly inclusive list of the 20th century’s greatest artists.
This bold display of work ranges from Matisse to Rauschenberg to Hirst. It includes great surprises, such as the saturated totemic prints of abstract Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. There isn’t an overriding theme but the curators have selected works which demonstrate great craftsmanship, which is appropriately so very V&A.
The book has been a hugely popular medium for modern artists but exhibitions of them are rare. It’s a broad genre which ranges from fragile portfolios in tiny editions, collected then stored in a dark place by obsessive collectors, to mass-produced artist’s catalogues, which, if out of print, have recently soared in value.
Among the greatest pleasures of the exhibition are the illustrated books of poetry. The conjunction of artist and poet inspires thoughts about the shared cultures of different eras — opposite Allen Ginsberg’s anti-war poem, “Whom bomb? We bomb them!”, is a print of explosions by Roy Lichten-stein; a play by Antonin Artaud, the inventor of the Theatre of Cruelty, is accompanied by some tor tured lithographs by German Neo-Expressionist Georg Baselitz.
Until 29 June. Open Sat-Thurs 10am-5.45pm, Fri 10am-10pm; admission free. Information: 020 7942 2211, www.vam.ac.uk
||In the moment: Damien Hirst’s I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, 1997
Suitcase: Detritus by Francis Bacon
Artistic licence: Anselm Kiefer’s Steigend
No shame: Joan Miro’s Le Courtisan Grotesque