A collector’s paradise: art books and livres d’artiste

by leslierankowfinearts

An extraordinary resource for art books and rare books is Ursus Books located at 699 Madison Avenue (62nd Street) in New York.  Formerly at the Carlyle Hotel for many years, art collectors, dealers, gallery owners and book collectors have gravitated to Ursus not only for the exceptional range and rarity of the books but also for their dedication to service.

I often say, “Doug makes me look good”, and he does! I like to send relevant art books to a client as a thank you and build an art library for the collectors who work with me. Doug is my very own Sherlock Holmes, suggesting and obtaining exactly the right books that focus not only on the artist’s work in general but also on a particular period or style that relates to the artwork that was just purchased.

I am so pleased that Doug has found the time to answer some questions about Ursus and its history with us. I welcome all questions and comments on this specialized focus of the art world.

DOUG, I HAVE BEEN A CUSTOMER SINCE I FIRST FORMED LRFA AND HAVE SPENT CONSIDERABLE TIME AT URSUS LOOKING AT BOOKS THAT HAVE COME IN OR CONTACTING YOU ON LINE TO RESEARCH A TOPIC FOR ME.THAT BEING SAID, I DON’T KNOW THE BASICS. WHEN WAS URSUS STARTED AND BY WHOM?

Ursus was founded in 1973 by Peter Kraus. His uncle, H.P. Kraus, was one of the great American antiquarian booksellers. Originally in New York at the Carlyle Hotel for over twenty years, we recently moved to 699 Madison and are delighted with our new location and exhibition space. Peter has always stocked antiquarian books with an emphasis on illustrated books. Ursus specializes in a combination of livres d’artiste and a strong art reference selection.

HOW DID YOU FIRST START WORKING AT URSUS/ HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD AN INTEREST IN BOOKS OR IN ART OR BOTH? IS THAT INTEREST IN A PARTICULAR PERIOD OR STYLE OR MORE GENERAL?

My father collects books and I have a background in art history. I had my own bookselling business from my loft in Brooklyn that primarily focused on artists’ books of the 1960s, a personal interest of mine. Right after 9/11, my first child, a daughter, was born and I needed to combine my interests with the responsibilities of fatherhood. The association with Ursus Books happened organically. I had known Peter previously. I brought my specific interests in the field to the company and working at Ursus has expanded my scope of knowledge to a more broadened view of the antiquarian and art book business.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO ORDER?

We try to stock major reference books in a very large range. This includes catalogues raisonnes (that document every work by an artist); major monographs (Books devoted to a single artist’s works) that are of interest to collectors; important exhibition catalogues from both museums and galleries and we undertake extensive searches for catalogues that are scarce. Publishers produce their own catalogues on what they have in stock and what is forthcoming. Certain institutions produce great publications and it is important for us to stay on top of that. We pay attention to the exhibition activities of major artists and try to have those names, such as Richter, Ruscha, Modigliani, in mind when we order.

Some of our inventory selections are based on the customers themselves  –  their focus of interest. It is our responsibility to anticipate their requests and to know which books are available and are in the works.

THANK YOU,  DOUG. NEXT TIME WE WILL LEARN ABOUT THE BOOK MARKET, BOOK FAIRS, AND YOUR INSIGHTS IN THE CONDITION AND CONSERVATION OF BOOKS. I’D WELCOME ANY AND ALL QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS THAT INTEREST  YOU AND THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ME TO POSE TO DOUG.