With a major show of Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré’s work now on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, we are thinking about Nexus Press, which published the first book of Bouabré’s art, Knowledge of the World, in 1998. The story of how this came about reflects an improbable meeting of a radical start-up publishing house; a self-taught artist inspired by the culture of his African homeland; and unlikely as it may seem, the 1996 Olympic games.
In the early 1970s, frustrated by Atlanta’s conservative art scene, photographer John McWilliams and five of his former students at Georgia State University—Jim Frazer, Jack Front, Deirdre Murphy, Bill Brown, and Michael Reagan—founded Nexus, an artist-run storefront gallery funded by member dues. In 1977, with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, it also started the now storied Nexus Press, dedicated to producing artists’ books and run by another former pupil of McWilliams, Michael Goodman.
Nexus Press published monographs of work by photographers such as P. H. Polk (1980) and artists’ publications like Marvin Rhodes’s Testify! Vietnam Veterans in Photographs & Interviews (1985) and Clarissa Sligh’s Voyage(r): A Tourist Map to Japan (2000) about her travels in that country as an African American woman.
Continually expanding the definition of what constitutes a “book,” Nexus worked with artists to create publications in the form of flip books, accordion folds, maps, pop-ups, and scrolls. One book was a musical score (to play the book was to destroy it); others were printed on T-shirts and individual cigarettes from a pack of Basic Lights.
Before it was shuttered in 2003, Nexus produced more than 150 publications notable for their use of new offset printing techniques and timely subject matter.