When is a book not a book?
This seems like a simple question, but in the case of one curious piece of art, researchers have enlisted the resources of one of the world’s leading X-ray facilities at Argonne National Laboratory to answer it. What they find might end up rewriting a chapter of modern art history, and might shine new light on one of the pioneers of an artistic movement.
The piece in question is called Betonbuch, or Concrete Book, and is the work of German-born artist Wolf Vostell. He was part of Fluxus, an international community of experimental creators that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, and was a pioneer of using concrete as a material for art, not just construction. In 1971, Vostell wrote a short book called Betonierungen, or Concretifications, and as evidence of his commitment to the material, he purportedly encased 100 copies of that book in numbered slabs of concrete.
Six years ago, as part of an exhibit on Vostell and Fluxus organized by art history professor Christine Mehring, the University of Chicago purchased Concrete Book #83, and it immediately intrigued Patti Gibbons. As the head of collection management at the University of Chicago’s Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, Gibbons works at the University’s Joseph Regenstein Library and is involved in curating displays of the institution’s collections.