30 Years of Designing an Archive

Wes Del Val interviews Art Books & Ephemera’s Richard Caldicott about the artist's online archive of almost 5,000 thought-provoking art, architecture, and design titles.

By Wes Del Val April 21, 2020

I don’t remember how I discovered Art Books & Ephemera on Instagram (@artbooksephemera), but it quickly moved to one of my top favorites and no account has received more of my likes since. I don’t get people who blindly “like” everything in their feed, but seriously, that’s practically me with what I see on this account.

British artist Richard Caldicott (British, b. 1962) posts multiple titles daily from his personal collection (no regramming for him) and that collection is vast and filled with one niche (and excellent in content and design) title after another.

I’d say it’s about a 75/25 split between artist recognizability and non, but about 95/5 between obscure books/catalogues and those I’ve seen before. I’m constantly on the hunt for book people on Instagram with great taste who always surprise me and I’ve not found anyone else to equal Richard’s deep archive and intrepid spirit to continually replenish it. If you recognize most of what he posts I won’t believe you, but do introduce yourself to me as I’ll want to follow you!

From Art Books & Ephemera (@artbooksephemera).

Ed Ruscha, Hurting the World Radio #2, auction catalogue, Christie’s New York, November 13, 2019. Text by Joan Agajanian Quinn in conversation with Stephen Jones.

Wes Del Val: Hardly a day goes by where you don’t post multiple titles, and so far you’re at close to 5,000 posts, so my first immediate question is, is everything you post always readily accessible to you or do you store a lot of it?

Richard Caldicott: Yes, it is all at hand in the house but sometimes it can take a while to locate something. There is a kind of system though.

WDV: Is there also a system for what you choose to post each day? Are you simply moving down the shelves one by one or is it whatever sparks your fancy?

RC: I just try to vary posts as much as possible, to mix it up and keep it interesting.

WDV: My favorite people to follow on Instagram, like you, show little no signs of personality (no selfies, nothing social, nothing but facts in the text) beyond their discerning taste, stick closely to the theme or name of their account, and have a lot of material to post so there are never noticeable duplications. So having said that, I obviously think you make great selections, but I really don’t know anything about you. What got you started in collecting books and catalogues to this degree?

RC: I have been working as an artist for about 30 years and traveled a lot internationally for exhibitions and art fairs, so on those trips I would usually pick up a pile of art books. Very early on I was buying artists’ books by Baldessari, Prince, Weiner, Kippenberger, Kruger.

Patrick Heron, catalogue for a solo exhibiton at the Barbican Gallery, London, 1985. Text by Vivien Knight, James Faure Walker, and Alan Gouk.

WDV: Has it been steady buying and selling for 30 years or were there periods of inactivity throughout?

RC: Buying for 30 years only, selling for two and a half years through the Instagram account.

WDV: Just that short amount of time? Did anything beyond the ease of doing so on Instagram suddenly cause you to start wanting to sell?

RC: Right, two and a half years. I had thought about it for a while and it seemed like it was a time to try to do it.

WDV: How do you source such excellent obscure titles?

RC: I have always been into researching material on artists, architects, and designers so in bookshops I would go through everything they had, on the lookout for interesting stuff.

WDV: Do you find everything yourself or do you have people on the lookout for you after all these years, and do you ever order online or is it a matter of what you happen to come across? You post so much that would never make it into most bookshops.

RC: Yes I find everything myself.

WDV: Since you’ve been buying for 30 years you must have great stories of fabulous bookshop discoveries where you couldn’t believe your luck in what you found. Can you share a recent highlight?

RC: In January this year I was in Amsterdam and checked out a couple of old bookstores, Antiquariaat Fenix and Antiquariaat A. Kok, where I found some nice material on de Kooning, Sam Francis, and Karel Appel. I also found a number of older Stedelijk Museum catalogues designed by the great Wim Crouwel.

Steve Wolfe on Paper, catalogue for a solo exhbition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, September–November 2009. Text by Carter E. Foster and Franklin Sirmans.

WDV: Is everything you post for sale?

RC: Yes, it is.

WDV: What were some of the hardest titles to part with and which would you never sell?

RC: I guess some of the Weiners, Prince, and Kippenbergers were a bit hard to part with because they were the first things I got. But they had just been sitting in an archive box. I had no need to refer to them, so you move on. I still have an extensive collection of Judd, Palermo, Twombly, Giacometti, to name a few, which I keep for now.

WDV: Is everything you buy always with a future sale in mind or are you also looking for a permanent collection you might have as well?

RC: I would say a bit of both, I get things for friends also that I know they would like.

WDV: The internet of course has upended the traditional hunt for obscurities, but what can you not get your hands on despite endless searching? Not a financially unrealistic dream book, but rather one you know is out there but despite all of today’s digital resources you simply cannot find.

RC: I don’t really look for material on the internet. I like to get my hands on books in real life and the chance encounters that occur with that.

WDV: Whose shelves would you most like to have a crack at to add to your collection?

RC: I spent hours in the library of the Kunstmuseum Bonn, where they had some interesting material. The older galleries like Konrad Fischer or Fondation Maeght.

Alexander Calder, Four Maquettes, Two Stabiles and a Little Bird Too, catalogue of a solo exhibition at Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art, New York, September–October 2002.

WDV: Any memorable DMs from people as a result of something you’ve posted?

RC: Yes, just the other day I got a message from a client who had just received some books: “They have really cheered me up after a tough first day home-schooling …! You are providing an essential service to all creative people during this crazy time.”

WDV: Speaking of, I imagine most of your clients are in the creative fields, but is that indeed the case? And do you find younger people buying from you or is it an older person who still stereotypically gravitates toward print?

RC: It really is mixed, a lot of creatives, young and old.

WDV: What are the most gratifying and on the flipside, frustrating, aspects of posting books and ephemera on Instagram every day?

RC: What’s good is working with regular clients all over the world. Sourcing material for their particular want lists. The downside now is the queue for the post office.

WDV:: Well if you’re visiting the post office regularly that means you made sales, which this very moment in the book world is pretty covetable.

RC: Most definitely, sales for books are high.

WDV: Like all else design-wise, thank goodness for trends to visually set periods apart—a book designed in the 1950s doesn’t look much like one designed in, say, the 1990s—so what years would you say show your favorite design sensibilities?

RC: That’s a tricky question. I guess I just like smaller, thinner and simpler catalogues that are easy to hold, but that’s not really year specific.

Helen Frankenthaler: Prints, catalogue of a solo exhibition (traveling) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., April–September 1993. Texts by Earl A. Powell and Ruth E. Fine. 

WDV: Any specific publishers or galleries whose books and catalogues you seem to always particularly like? Just curious since so much has passed through your hands so I’d like to know what design-wise stands out for you.

RC: Galleries that sometimes follow a program/format like Craig F. Starr are very nice. Just low-key and not flashy, nice to handle. Anything by designers like Stephen Coates who has worked for White Cube, John Morgan for Hamiltons, Raven Row and David Chipperfield Architects, Peter B. Willberg for Stephen Friedman Gallery, Timothy Taylor Gallery, among others.

WDV: Which artists and subjects get the most likes whenever you post anything to do with them?

RC: Picasso, Miró, de Kooning, Giacometti, Twombly.

WDV: Whose Instagram accounts do you find yourself giving likes to most often?

RC: @levelsanddegrees, @librairiedesarchives, @archiveslibrary, @bunker_basement.

(All images from Art Books & Ephemera.)

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