Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary: The Commissions Book (Sternberg Press, 2020) is a vivid documentation of TBA21’s commissioning practice and the ethos of the foundation, which involves working directly with artists on some of the most urgent topics of our time. This volume is an anthology of new texts, visual material, and research on TBA21’s commissions, woven together with explorations of the processes and relationships that enabled them. The publication was inspired by the labor, dialogue, and collaboration it took to produce these works over the past two decades, and what it means to be their guardian. The book’s innovative design was conceived by the world’s foremost book designer, Irma Boom. A selection of smell molecules from trees, forests, and earth are embedded into print sheets made of robust natural fibers, which are covering and bookending the publication. The smell was recorded, replicated, and recombined by artist Sissel Tolaas as a special commission for the book. Honoring TBA21’s commitment to the environment, the book is made from sustainable materials, using 100 percent recycled paper.
In over 1,300 pages, The Commissions Book engages in depth with more than 100 works of art. The publication organizes and weaves together sequences of potential narratives and interrogations, along with close examinations of different works of art and an archive of images. The stories embedded in these works, as well as in the foundation’s work, and that of TBA21–Academy, an itinerant site of transdisciplinary research and cultural production engaging with the oceans, are stories of making new connections across disciplines, geographies, and different forms of expertise. Committed to the sensibilities of artists-as-researchers, TBA21 has sided with artists in imagining new ways of knowing and intervening in the societies we live in and deploying new ways of encountering the world around us. The foundation’s work presents an attempt at reimagining what it means to “work together” as artists, commissioners, and public, and The Commissions Book seeks to rearticulate this praxis of intervention and reimagination as it evolved over two decades.