The Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize is both the centrepiece of and inspiration for Opening up the Book. This year is the fifth edition of the Prize and this accompanying exhibition showcases over 200 books selected from nearly 400 individual entries coming from 42 different countries.
The inaugural Sheffield Artist’s Book Prize in 2008 attracted just 50 entries and the Prize has continued to grow from that modest beginning. For the second installment in 2009 that figure was up to 78 – to allow us to develop the Prize, we decided to make it a biennial event. The 3rd Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize in 2011 attracted over 180 entries from 22 different countries and with this rapid growth we decided to seek funding to continue this development. In 2013, with the assistance of funding from Arts Council England, Sheffield Town Trust and sponsorship from the Open College of the Arts, we increased the profile of the Prize and saw over 455 books entered from over 35 different countries. All books were exhibited in a two month exhibition and also featured in a full colour catalogue that we added for the first time.
This unprecedented success, and increase in scale in 2013, meant we had to make some changes going forward whilst trying not to lose sight of our main objectives. The main aim of the Prize is to develop the profile of artist’s books and to create opportunities for display and dissemination. As such, a key element is that visitors to the exhibition are asked to vote for their favourite entry and this determines the Exhibition Prize winner and makes the event unique: it is as much about the viewing, looking at and handling of the books as about their making. Another aim has always been to show the whole range of artists’ books and host an event that is open to all and free to enter. We have retained these key elements in 2015. However, as stunning as it was seeing 455 books in a single exhibition, many visitors did say they felt overwhelmed. As organisers we certainly did – from photographing and cataloging to responding and writing – the sheer volume of work stretched us to breaking point. So for 2015 we have made some changes which we hope are in keeping with our aims and intentions but will will also improve the overall exhibition.
This year, artists were asked to submit entries digitally rather than sending books and we have selected just over two hundred to show in the exhibition. We will be offering more Prizes this year but still retaining the exhibition winner, voted for by visitors. We trust the resulting exhibition will continue to offer the breadth and scale that this event has become known for whilst at the same time affording the visitor the opportunity to actually look at all of the books and still allow time for repeat visits where time and interest permits.