The photographer Alix Cléo Roubaud is the subject of an exhibition that’s just closed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (held from 28 October, 2014-1 February, 2015). The UL acquired the catalogue to this exhibition at the end of December (Alix Cléo Roubaud : photographies : quinze minutes la nuit au rythme de la respiration / Alix Cléo Roubaud ; sous la direction d’Anne Biroleau-Lemagny, d’Hélène Giannecchini et de Dominique Versavel – 2014.10.1872), which affords us a good opportunity to talk about Cléo Roubaud in particular, and more generally about exhibition catalogues in our collections in the UL.
Alix Cléo Roubaud (1952-1983) was a French-Canadian photographer. In June 1980, she married the poet Jacques Roubaud in Cambridge, and the two spent much time in the city. She had studied Wittgenstein for an unfinished philosophy doctorate, and his connection to the city provided inspiration for some of her photographs, while another series was taken in the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge.
The exhibition consisted of 200 photographs, and the catalogue includes in its annex some selections from her notebooks and journals. Much of the justification that the BNF had in holding the exhibition was that Cléo Roubaud’s photographs are little known, and have been relatively infrequently exhibited—and this is borne out in the collections of the libraries in Cambridge. Besides the catalogue of this exhibition, the only other work on Alix Cléo Roubaud in Cambridge University libraries is a 2014 biography Une image peut-être vraie, Alix Cléo Roubaud / Hélène Giannecchini ; postface de Jacques Roubaud (C209.c.143), which includes a few photographic works, but doesn’t provide the context that one can receive from an exhibition catalogue. This paucity of works in the Library is not due our having failed to buy works we should have; rather, there are as yet few works published about her (see the bibliography on her Wikipédia page).
The UL’s collection development policy (the policy which dictates what books we buy) states that:
Exhibition catalogues and catalogues of collections or galleries are acquired extensively to maintain a collection of the catalogues of major galleries, major exhibitions (irrespective of location) and any exhibitions of recognised major artists. Attempts are made to identify important living artists (mainly European and North American and Latin American) and to acquire catalogues of their work. Material is collected in English or the most appropriate language, French or German versions of multinational publications otherwise having precedence. Materials, primary or secondary, documenting popular art movements and minor or ephemeral artistic activity are collected selectively, mostly in English.
As a result, we purchase a good number of exhibition catalogues from exhibitions held throughout Western Europe, and particularly in France, Germany and Italy. We are not always able to acquire and process exhibition catalogues while the exhibition is still ongoing—sometimes we receive the book on our French, Italian or Spanish approval plans while the exhibition is still running, but this is not always the case.
A search on the catalogue for various galleries shows the range of material we collect as exhibition catalogues: for examples, the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Palazzo reale di Milano. We do also collect catalogues from major exhibitions in smaller galleries, but we are often reliant either upon our vendors choosing relevant material for us, or on our readers to recommend exhibition catalogues that would be important additions to our collections.
We especially rely on recommendations relating to exhibitions as it can become very difficult to purchase exhibition catalogues after the exhibition has passed—catalogues are not always reliably available on the used book market, and prices are often elevated even within a matter of months after the exhibition has closed. An exhibition on illumination, Trésors enluminés, held at the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse in late 2013/early 2014 was drawn to our attention by one of our readers, who had repeatedly attempted to acquire a copy last year. Copies never appeared on Amazon, ABEBooks or Chapitre. We asked our Parisian supplier to investigate and she phoned various bookshops, museums and art galleries, but without success. She described her message to the Association des Conservateurs des Musées de Midi-Pyrénées as “my last chance to find copies of this catalogue”– and rather miraculously, this was successful.