The Institute of Modern Russian Culture

at the University of Southern California presents:

Михаил Карасик

Mikhail Karasik


Книга Художника - Artist's Books at IMRC

Notes on the Authors and Artists



Mikhail Karasik and the Artist's Book

by Joe Hannon


            USC’s Institute of Modern Russian Culture boasts a wide assortment of unique handmade books made of materials ranging from canvas and cardboard to tissue paper and tin.  Truly a unique art form, the Artist’s Book has been featured in museums worldwide.  This virtual exhibition displays IMRC’s collection of artist’s books.

            Mikhail Karasik is a leader among Russian book artists, and he has pioneered the form among Russian artists and art enthusiasts.  His works have found homes in museums worldwide and now at USC’s Institute of Modern Russian Culture.  Karasik’s influences stem from the Futurist movement of the early 20th century, the Oberiu literary group, the absurdist poet Daniil Kharms, various Soviet era artifacts, and many other sources.  The Artist’s Book is not a uniquely Russian art form, but Karasik’s pieces are certainly uniquely his.  The challenge of this art form lies in how to present it.  The books are pieces of art, but they are also literary texts that are meant to be read.  Many museums have displayed artist’s books and struggled with whether to let viewers interact with the art as with books.  My project has been to create a virtual exhibition of the IMRC’s collection of artist’s books so that Karasik’s works may be safely preserved and accessibly and interactively displayed. 

            Artist’s books have been a popular art form for decades.    Artist’s books are all one-of-a-kind, limited edition, handmade books which are designed to complement and expand the art that is the text inside the book as well as to be pieces of art themselves.  The books are all bound and pieced together by hand.  Because the artist must make each copy of his or her book by hand, they are all unique and slightly varied.  Artist’s books are usually published in an edition of approximately 20 copies, and as such, they stretch the boundary of what defines a book.  These books cannot be mass produced and so challenge our conceptions of books.

            In no way did Mikhail Karasik invent this creative and unique style of art, but he certainly pioneered the form in Russia and encouraged his contemporaries to experiment with it as well.  The Oberiu, DADA, and Leningrad Literary Underground boxes of artist’s books stemmed from Karasik’s idea to invite his fellow artists to create artist’s books around a common theme.  Each box contains 7-8 artist’s books made by various artists based on original and historical texts.  The books are housed together in an enlarged box modeled after a former Soviet matchbox.  Karasik loved to take simple and iconic Soviet artifacts such as these Gomel’drev matchboxes and turn them into something completely different in his artist’s books.

            Karasik’s books are inspired by many sources including the Russian Futurist movement of the early 20th century.  The Russian Futurists rejected the older symbolists teachings of the previous generation and created new works with their own inventive style from the already established folk art forms.  They were progressive in their works and emphasized speed, invention, and modernity.

            Karasik was also heavily influenced by the Oberiu group of the 1910s and the Leningrad Literary Underground.







1.    Compton, Susan P.  The World Backwards: Russian Futurist Books 1912-1916.  London: The British Library, 1978.

2.    Compton, Susan P.  Russian Avant-Garde Books 1917-34.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1992.

3.    Ford, Peter, Christine Higgott, and Chaterine Phillips.  The Book Garden Contemporary Russian Artist’s Books.  Bristol, England: Doveton Press, 1995.

4.    Perloff, Marjorie.  The Futurist Movement.  Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.






Joe Hannon

University of Southern California  

© 2008