This major gift of artists’ books – over 500 items – from the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF) transforms and enriches AGSA’s holdings. The works encompass a wide variety of publications and objects, from single-copy handmade books, to books that were conceived by artists and subsequently mass-produced. The collection was assembled by the Adelaide-based Experimental Art Foundation over a period of forty years (1974–2016). The EAF was founded in 1974 by a small group of artists, curators and theorists, with its mission defined by Donald Brook, one of its founding council members:

to promote art that interrogated the status quo, was only incidentally aesthetic, and by definition, was radical.

This important national and international organisation promoted experimental art practices and became renowned for supporting early performance art in Australia.

The Irish conceptual artist Noel Sheridan, the EAF’s inaugural director (1975–80), placed books at the centre of the EAF, both as a physical collection and as a way of connecting with artists and art centres throughout the world.

His first exhibition, of publications and magazines, included a lecture by the artist Terry Smith on his recent experience as part of New York-based Art & Language group.

In 1976 Sheridan followed up with the Information Show, an exhibition of books and publications he had collected overseas.

Sheridan’s commitment to the expanding field of book art saw him co-organise a major exhibition demonstrating the development of US book art, at the University of Melbourne’s Ewing and George Paton Galleries and Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art in 1979. The exhibition, Artists Bookworks, comprised over 700 artists’ books from New York’s Franklin Furnace and the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, and was augmented with a selection of recent Australian books.

When the US works were returned after their exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, the Australian works that had been part of the exhibition travelled to New York and other US cities, becoming the first international exhibition of Australian artists’ books.

Following Sheridan’s departure from the EAF, the foundation’s archive of artists’ books continued to grow, with exhibiting artists responding to it and contributing their own works until the 2010s. The cumulative, incremental history of the collection means the archive acts as a record of the organisation’s rich history and as a time capsule, the objects preserving in their pages worlds that have since passed.

The multivariant form of the artist books defies categorisation, yet its capacity to activate a particular kind of engagement with the viewer and reader has made it a compelling field for many. Martha Wilson, founder of the Franklin Furnace Archive, and curator Peter Frank sought to explain the intricate and complex impulses at work in the field of artists’ books:

Book art is not a single style, it is many styles finding a medium. It is not a single medium, it is many media finding a format. It is not a single format, it is many formats finding a context. It is not a single context, it is many contexts finding an artist. It is not a single artist, it is many artists finding a public.

The acquisition of the EAF book collection enables an insight into the radical shift in values and aesthetics in the 1960 and 1970s, in particular the practices of FLUXUS artists. Their interest in the book as a motivator of artistic and social exchange was not dependent on an established art market, with museum systems influencing a worldwide movement, of which the EAF was a part. The movement, which was particularly active in New York, Germany and Japan, had close links to experimental music and promoted collaboration between disciplines, and participatory art events.

The EAF book collection includes works from portfolios such as Artists & Photographs, published in 1970 by Multiples Inc. from New York, which sought to explore how contemporary artists were using photography in a new way. The portfolio includes works by conceptual and pop artists Allan Kaprow, Joseph Kosuth, Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim and Andy Warhol, amongst others. Other works of note include artist books by Ed Ruscha, handmade collage books by Australian artists Richard and Pat Larter and publications by Maria Kozic.

The EAF book collection can be searched through AGSA's library and viewed by appointment through the Print Viewing Room. For appointments to view the collection email

Maria Zagala is Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at AGSA


1 Donald Brook wrote c.1974: ‘1. Our apprehension of the world is active, not passive, and art displays an emergent apprehension. 2. Art is only incidentally and not essentially aesthetic. Art is concerned with every kind of value and not particularly with beauty. 3. Art interrogates the status quo; it is essentially, and not incidentally, radical. 4. Art is experimental action: it models possible forms of life and makes them available to public criticism’. Trove, accessed 13 September 2021.

2 Stephanie Britton notes that the exhibition included Fluxus, Dada, Flash Art, Avalanche, Pro and Heute Kunst (A decade of EAF: a history of the Experimental Art Foundation 1974–1984, Adelaide, p. 32).

3 Peter Di Sciascio, ‘Artists’ books: a world of openings’, University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 6, June 2010, pp. 17–18.

4 Peter Frank and Martha Wilson, Introduction, Artists’ Books USA, Independent Curators Incorporated, 1978.