Earlier this month, I worked with artist and educator Mark Joshua Epstein to bring a group of workshop participants to view objects in the MoMA Library that are not typically associated with modern art: artist-made flip books. This visit was part of Making the Moving Image: Past to Present, a studio workshop about experimentation with animation techniques that predate the invention of cinema. I watched participants hold and manipulate the books and was struck by how the direct physical contact with an artist’s work makes visiting the library’s collection of artist books so unique. The hands-on access is particularly important for studying artists’ flip books because they are made to be animated by the viewer’s own hands. Feeling the size and weight of the books, flipping through them quickly and then slowly, counting the number of images and considering how they are paced gave participants insight into the strategies artists use to create an illusion of movement from still images.
The workshop piqued my interest, so I reached out to librarian Jennifer Tobias to learn more about the MoMA Library’s holdings of over 10,000 artist’s books. In our conversation she echoed that what is so special about teaching with this collection is that “you’re essentially touching art,” and “if you touch something, it’s just different than looking at it in the gallery.”