Introducing the Reading Room

January 25, 2010
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We’re happy to announce today the launch of the Reading Room—a special corner of lacma.org dedicated to catalogues of exhibitions past. These are out-of-print, hard-to-find books reprinted in full for you to read online or download as a pdf—for free. To kick things off we are offering ten books related to the Southern California art scene, with plans for more books reflecting the depth and breadth of LACMA’s collection to be added over the coming months. We asked Nola Butler, co-director of LACMA’s Publications Department and a member of the team that got the Reading Room up and running, for her take on this new venture.

"Edward Kienholz," exhibition catalogue, pp. 55-56, on Reading Room

There are certain out-of-print LACMA catalogues, like Art and Technology (1971), that have become legendary (and not just in the mind of an editor in the Publications Department). I first came across one of these treasures when I was working on curator Howard Fox’s essays for Made in California (2000). I hadn’t been at LACMA very long and was just learning about the infamous Back Seat Dodge controversy. Weirdly, by chance, I happened to discover Maurice Tuchman’s brilliant Edward Kienholz (1966) in the back of a Pubs department file cabinet. There’s something about finding just the right book at just the right time, and the Kienholz catalogue is one very cool book: a faux leather-bound paperback with faux marbled paper on the inside covers, a greenish “toothy” stock for the text pages, and black-and-white images with cartouche-shaped borders like in old photo albums. There is a lovely surprise at the back—a gatefold of The Beanery, Kienholz’s homage to the old Barney’s. They reserved one full page for a color reproduction of our own Back Seat Dodge ’38. Deborah Sussman’s design is crafty; the book looks like a battered scrapbook that Kienholz might’ve found in a junk shop and used in one of his works. It’s sort of ugly and beautiful at the same time.

I still have that book in my office, and over the years I’ve kept my eyes open for more of these legendary LACMA catalogues. In assembling material for the Reading Room, I had an excuse to really go after these books—searching Pubs offices and eBay, borrowing from the Rights and Reproductions Department and our research library. I’ve filled two long shelves in my office with just about every book and catalogue this encyclopedic institution has ever published. My desk faces these shelves, and every time I look at them, it makes me happy.

Nola's bookshelf

This is the great thing about the Reading Room: it’s like I get to invite everyone over to my office to check out all the fantastic books LACMA has done. You can see that Kienholz book, Art and Technology, and the rest of our electronic reprints right here.

Nola Butler, Co-director of Publications