This exhibition presents a selection of experiments with novels from throughout the past hundred years. Early in the 20th century, modern artists illustrated canonical novels, while others conceived works of their own. In subsequent decades, artists and writers continued to integrate texts and images.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a period of bold experimentation with books as an art form, practitioners engaged with conceptual, formal, and political aspects of the novel. In the 1980s, the novel became a site of critical interrogation through appropriations, “altered books,” and parodies.
New fusions of image and text appeared in the graphic novels and photobooks of the 1990s.
Today, artists continue to reinvent the novel, exploring the implications of digital texts, reimagining the traditional book, and playing with literary conventions.
Materials are from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art Library unless otherwise noted.
The exhibition is organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library
Frans Masereel. Grostesk Film (Berlin: Neumann, 1921)
A wordless novel of dense, frenetic etchings inspired by the expressionist films of the 1920s.
René Crevel. Mr. Knife, Miss Fork (Paris: Black Sun, 1931)
An excerpt from Crevel’s Babylone (1927) illustrated with photograms by Max Ernst.
André Breton. Nadja (Paris: Gallimard, 1928)
Breton’s Surrealist novel is one of the first to incorporate enigmatic photographs and absurd captions.
William Wallace Cook. Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots (Portland: Tin House, 2011)
First published in 1929, pulp fiction writer Cook compiled this plot-generating system for pragmatic purposes. Today, the work’s algorithmic rigor resonates with developments in conceptual art and computer programming.
Giorgio De Chirico. Hebdomeros (Paris: Carrefour, 1929)
De Chirico’s narrative evokes a sense of mystery and unease similar to his Surrealist paintings.
Lynd Ward. God’s Man: A Novel in Woodcuts (New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1929)
Like other wordless novels of the 1930, God’s Man uses stark black-and-white imagery to tell a story of individuals struggling against larger social forces. Ward’s work is considered to be a precursor of the contemporary graphic novel.
Azuela, Mariano. The Under Dogs (New York: Bretano’s, 1929)
A novel about the Mexican revolution, illustrated by José Clemente Orozco.
Max Ernst. Rêve d’une petite fille que voulut entrer au Carmel (A little girl dreams of taking the veil) (Paris: Carrefour, 1930)
Ernst’s tale of a girl’s lost virginity is told through collages made from 19th-century engravings. Exploring forbidden aspects of the subconscious was characteristic of the Surrealist group.
Bruno Schulz. Sklepy cynamonowe (Cinnamon shops) (Warsaw: MG, 2013)
Schulz wrote and illustrated several novels, including this meditation on his father and their town. It was first published in 1937.
Leonora Carrington. La maison de la peur (Paris: Parisot, 1938)
This short story anticipates several novels by the Surrealist painter. The illustrations are by Max Ernst.
Michel Butor. Mobile: Étude pour une représentation des États-Unis (Paris: Gallimard, 1962)
Butor’s collage novel is composed of texts discovered during his travels through the U.S.
Raymond Queneau. Exercices de style (Paris: Gallimard, 1963)
Queneau—a co-founder of the group of avant-garde writers known as Oulipo (an acronym for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or “workshop of potential literature”)—published this literary tour-de-force in 1947. It renders a brief, mundane story in ninety-nine different styles.
Andy Warhol. A: A Novel (New York: Grove, 1968)
Warhol audiotaped the amphetamine-fueled actor and Factory icon Robert Olive (a.k.a. Ondine), had the results transcribed by multiple typists, and then printed the unedited transcripts.
Georges Perec. La disparition (The disappearance) (Paris: Denoël, 1969)
In a lipogrammatic text, the author systematically omits a letter of the alphabet. Here Perec, a member of Oulipo, composed a novel without using a single e.
Madeline Gins. Word Rain: Or, A Discursive Introduction to the Intimatephilosophical Investigations of G,r,e,t,a, G,a,r,b,o, It Says (New York: Grossman, 1969)
Gins' landmark experimental novel is an intricate reflection upon language, literature, and the physical act of reading.
Dieter Roth. Eine Bastelnovelle, n. 2 (Homemade Novella) (Basel: Hansjorg Mayer, 1991)
Roth wrote, designed, and printed several novels in the 1970s, one of which is reprinted here. He famously made sausages from ground up works of literature.
Dorothy Iannone. Danger in Düsseldorf, (or), I Am Not What I Seem (Stuttgart: Hansjorg Mayer, 1973)
Iannone integrated handwritten text and line drawing into a sexually charged fairytale about a soap that has strange effects on the bodies of those who use it—and the dramatic act necessary to break the spell.
Walter Abish. Alphabetical Africa (New York: New Directions, 1974)
In this lipogrammatic work, the author uses only the letter a to begin words in the first chapter and allows himself one more letter in each successive chapter. After arriving at z, he then omits one additional letter in each chapter.
Yayoi Kusama, Manhattan Jisatsu Misui Joshuhan (Manhattan Suicide Addict) (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1984)
Collection of Midori Yamamura
ayoi Kusama’s first novel, originally published
in 1978, evokes her racy, hallucinogenic visits to New York in the 1960s.
Martha Hawley. Notebooks (Amsterdam: IJ, 1979)
Each character in this “notebook” gives evidence about a murder from a different point of view and in a different style.
Lucy Lippard. I See/you Mean (Los Angeles: Chrysalis, 1979)
Lippard is best known for groundbreaking work
in political art, feminism, and artists’ books. In the late 1970s she published this novel of feminist
Tom Phillips. A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980)
In an “altered book,” an artist intervenes in an existing publication. In this outstanding example, Phillips has expressively modified each page of the florid 1892 novel A Human Document. Phillips’s “treatment” was first published in 1973, and he has revisited it in subsequent editions, such as this one, from 1980.
Rodney Graham. The System of Landor’s Cottage: A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story (Toronto: Gevaert, 1987)
Graham engages with two late works by Edgar Allen Poe, inserting an invented narrative on the theme of the pendant—a work of art intended to complement another—and the creative process.
Sherrie Levine. Gustave Flaubert: Un Cœur Simple (Gustave Flaubert: A Simple Heart) (Ghent: Imschoot, 1990)
In the 1980s, Levine reprinted Flaubert’s 1877
story under her own name, a key gesture in the appropriation art movement.
W. G. Sebald. Schwindel, Gefühle (Vertigo) (Frankfurt: Eichborn, 1990)
Sebald’s novels are remarkable for their integration of enigmatic images. In this instance they amplify the novel’s theme of the mutability of memory.
Doug Huston. Vast: An Unoriginal Novel (Chicago: Sara Ranchouse, 1994)
A parody composed of excerpts from other westerns, each meticulously footnoted.
Daniel Jewesbury. Of Lives Between Lines (London: Book works, 1998)
Jewesbury’s book is a literary and biographical palimpsest, merging John Masters’ 1952 novel Bhowani Junction, a 1956 screenplay by George Cukor, and the author’s own experience.
Chris Ware. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid
on Earth (New York: Pantheon, 2000)
Ware’s landmark graphic novel, first published in serial form, intertwines of the lives (and fantasies and deaths) of a grandfather, father, and son.
Veronique Aubouy. Proust lu, n01-n0182 (Proust read, no. 1–no. 182) (Paris: Onestar, 2001)
Aubouy documents her project to film individuals reading passages of their choice from Marcel Proust’s 1913 In Search of Lost Time.
Sophie Calle. Sophie Calle: Double Game (London: Violette, 2002)
In his 1992 novel Leviathan, Paul Auster based a character on the artist Sophie Calle. She then
played a “double game” by mapping the text back
to her life and work.
Allen Ruppersberg. The New Five-Foot Shelf of Books: Memoir - Novel (Brussels: M. Szwajcer
and M. Didier, 2003)
Ruppersberg has condensed a multivolume, sculptural version of his “memoir-novel” and homage to the Harvard Classics—a fifty-one
volume anthology of Western literature known as “the five foot shelf of books”—into a single volume of five of his own parallel texts.
Joseph Scanlan. Two Views (Brussels: Bartleby, 2003)
Herman Melville’s short story Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) is juxtaposed with an adaptation by Scanlan set in Brooklyn. The idea of “two views” is made literal by inclusion of a stereoscope.
Bernadette Corporation. Reena Spaulings (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004)
This novel recounts the backstory of Reena Spaulings, a fictional artist and art dealer invented by the art collective Bernadette Corporation.
Nick Thurston. Reading the Remove of Literature (York: Information as Material, 2006)
An English translation of Maurice Blanchod’s study L’Espace Littéraire (1955) in which the text is omitted but Thurston’s notes are left, making him
a participant in authorship.
Ciprian Muresan. Auto-Da-Fé (Bucharest: Mihail Gallery, 2008)
Excerpts from Elias Canetti’s 1932 novel were rendered in Romanian graffiti, photographed by the artist, and assembled into this monotone chapbook.
Evan Connell. Mrs. Bridge (San Francisco: Arion, 2009)
Laurie Simmons’ signature photos of tiny furniture amplify the sense of ennui evoked by Connell’s 1959 novel of mid-century American suburban life.
Hu Fang. Garden of Mirrored Flowers (Berlin: Sternberg, 2010)
This story of a man building a contemporary amusement park alludes to an 1827 fantasy novel titled Flowers in the Mirror by Li Ruzhen.
Joanna Neborsky. Illustrated Three Line Novels: Félix Fénéon (New York: Mark Batty, 2010)
Fénéon published these highly condensed stories in the Parisian newspaper Le Matin in 1906. Neborsky illustrates.
Jill Magid. Becoming Tarden (Minneapolis: Print Craft, 2010)
The Dutch secret service commissioned a work of art intended to humanize the organization. Magid’s resulting novel was confiscated as a security threat instead of being published. In this censored version, the “real story” has been literally covered up.
Olivier Debroise. —Traidor, ¿y tú? (Traitor, Are You?) (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2010)
This posthumous work of historical fiction by the art historian and critic Debrois was inspired by figures in a Diego Rivera mural.
Richard Prince. The Catcher in the Rye (New York: American Place, 2011)
The appropriation artist’s nearly identical reproduction of the 1951 edition of Salinger’s novel. Prince claims authorship on the dust jacket.
Aaron Krach. The Author of This Book Committed Suicide (NYPL) (New York: Krach, 2012)
Krach creates sculpture by borrowing, stamping, and stacking library books by authors who killed themselves. Here he has made a new book of title page scans, reflecting their installation as a stack.
Michèle Bernstein. The Night (Book Works, 2013)
Bernstein, a co-founder of the Situationist International, based this novel on the group’s walks through Paris. This new translation is illustrated with a Google map, a reminder of the Situationists’ interest in the experience of passage through urban time and space.
Joy Drury Cox. Old Man and Sea (Jersey City: Conveyor, 2012)
Cox omits all but the periods from Hemmingway’s 1952 tale of a fisherman adrift. Lines drawn between the periods suggest constellations or maps, as well as disorientation.
LAb[au]. Signal to Noise (Brussels, 2012)