Art pranks in libraries

A recent post on the ARLIS email list summarized a collective brainstorm about library-related pranks or (sometimes) unsolicited art projects.  Here are some of the best ones:

  • Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell stole books from the Islington Library, altered the book jackets or endpapers (usually with absurd photocollages), and returned the books surreptitiously.
  • For a graded project, several thousand receipts of library fines were suspended on strings from the ceiling in an aisle of the library stacks, dozens on each string.  The visual effect was like a disorienting blizzard.
  • Tiny models of books, no more than a half inch tall, each with titles containing the word “big” or “little” were found in the stacks.  Later a miniature book truck and miniature bookends were also found.
  • Several books (not from the library) were found in the stacks, each with a corkscrew driven through it.
  • A handmade book, shaped like a mountain, was found in the stacks.
  • Periodical runs bound in separate colors were mixed to create striped patterns.
  • Pictorial microfiche were misfiled in a manner so that, someone correcting one of the misfilings would discover another, and so on, in a long sequence that ended where it began.
  • Nickel and dime bags of marijuana were found in between the spine cover and text block of some art history books in the stacks.  It was eventually determined that someone was dealing dope by issuing call numbers to paid customers.
  • John Latham, Art and Culture, 1966-9. (St. Martin’s School of Art, London) — Clement Greenberg’s most famous book was borrowed from the library, chewed by artists at a party, spat into a jar, processed with chemicals, and the pulp sealed in a glass vial.  This was returned to the librarian in response to overdue notices and is now in the MOMA collection.
  • Temporary Services, Library Project, 2001. (Harold Washington Library, Chicago) — 100 books selected or made by 60 artists were given classification numbers and library markings and smuggled into the collections of the main public library.
  • Kathy Slade, 52 Transactions, 2006-7. (Vancouver Public Library) — The artist charged out one or more books once each week for a year, saved all of the transaction slips, including some service errors, and published them as a book.  (Permission was obtained but the workers participating in the performance were unaware.)
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