Re-Reading Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum

Re-Reading Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum encompasses several permanent collection installations in our historic building, ranging from a long-term reinstallation of paintings and sculpture to short-term, focused exhibitions of light-sensitive items.

Re-Reading Special Collections reinterprets our National Historic Landmark building’s publicly-accessible first floor to reflect a more expansive view of American art and history across a range of media. The reinstallation focuses on the Henry Long Room, a large multi-functional area used as a permanent collection gallery, lecture hall, event space, and starting point for tours. By deploying archive-driven historical research and theoretically-informed interpretive frameworks, Re-Reading presents collections items with a critical eye toward the past. Showcasing a diverse array of rare books, works on paper, paintings, and sculptures, the installation brings a fresh perspective to lesser-known and beloved materials alike. This project was made possible by a Re-envisioning Permanent Collections Grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books: Concept & Craft in Contemporary Artists’ Books

Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity (Vashon Island, Washington, 2014)

Suzanne Moore, Zero: Cypher of Infinity (Vashon Island, Washington, 2014)

Sue Anderson and Gwen Harrison, Howl for a Black Cockatoo (Sydney: Impediment Press, 2015)

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books: Concept & Craft in Contemporary Artists’ Books

November 15, 2022 – March 11, 2023

Materialia Lumina | Luminous Books showcases a selection of outstanding contemporary artists’ books created by some of the world’s most accomplished makers over the past twenty-five years. The books embody a distinctive marriage of “high craft” with “high concept.” They demonstrate a mastery of the traditional arts of the book—printing, printmaking, typography, calligraphy, bookbinding, papermaking, and graphic design—intersecting vigorously with the conceptual daring and exploratory nature of the best contemporary art. The exhibition explores the extraordinary level of skill and persistence involved in creating these beautiful works, as well as their unique power to speak to a range of contemporary issues and concerns. 

These forty selections from the Athenæum’s holdings and the collection of a generous private lender were drawn from a curated list of 75 exemplary works, out of more than 6,000 pieces exhibited at the CODEX International Book Fair, the world’s largest venue for contemporary artists’ books, since the fair’s inception in 2007. The Athenæum is one of three venues for this international exhibition, along with Stanford University Libraries and the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach, Germany. A substantial catalog, with descriptive essays and extensive illustrations, accompanies the exhibition. 

Books on display from the Boston Athenæum’s collection are cataloged in Athena, the Athenaeum’s online catalog, and can be consulted in the Vershbow Special Collections reading room after the exhibition concludes.


The exhibition was curated by John Buchtel and designed by Jennifer L. Munson. The exhibition catalog, Materialia Lumina: Contemporary Artists’ Books from the CODEX International Book Fair, was jointly published by the CODEX Foundation and Stanford University Libraries with support from the Boston Athenæum. Works featured in the catalog were selected by Peter Koch, Susan Filter, Roberto Trujillo, and members of the CODEX Foundation Board of Directors.