Poughkeepsie, NY — Book lovers and aesthetes alike will often cite the material qualities of a book, the cloth covers, glossy pages, rough or gilded edges, or the personal touch that one can experience through a book's design – even more than a book's contents – as the basis for the medium's lasting significance in contemporary society. These characteristics add up to the overall significance of a book as an object to behold, rather than simply a source of information, something appreciated by artists and readers since the first illuminated manuscript was published over ten centuries ago.
South East Asia in the new Carpenter and Joiner (2000), Jonathan Callan
For decades, through what has come to be known as the "artist's book," artists have manipulated the page, format, and content of books, often transforming them into a reflexive discussion of the medium's own tradition. While there is no fixed definition of what an artist's book can be, it is always a work of art in itself, created for its own sake and not necessarily for the information it contains.
How thirteen international artists have expanded the terrain of the artist's book over the last ten years, is the focus of Off the Shelf: New Forms in Contemporary Artists' Books, to be shown October 6-December 17, 2006 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. The exhibition features over 45 objects which represent a diverse range of expressions, including the personal narrative, introspection and reflection, a critique of conventional book design, and evoke the intimate act of leafing through a favorite book or viewing the pages of someone's diary or sketchbook. Curator Mary-Kay Lombino points to such artists as Jonathan Callan, Paul Noble, and Brian Belott, who manipulate found books to invent new objects that have been transformed by the artists' hands and imaginations. Beatriz Milhazes, Francesca Gabbiani, and Russell Crotty illustrate texts that they find meaningful, from poems, novels, and songs, to the artists' own musings.
Catastrophe Cat (2005), Brian Belott
"This group of artists demonstrates an intuitive understanding and admiration of distinctive qualities in their book works," said Lombino, "They share a remarkable consideration for the craft of making an art object in the form of a book, with a focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail." Off the Shelf , and its companion publication, are sponsored by the Friends of Frances Lehman Loeb Exhibition Fund.
All thirteen featured artists create books alongside their other output including painting, drawing, photography, and sculpture. Many of the books incorporate layered collage or hand-drawn, hand-painted, or hand-cut pages, resulting in unique objects and very small editions. Most of the works in Off the Shelf are artist initiated and produced, while others continue the great tradition of publishing books that unite artists and writers from around the globe.
One co-edition is Beatriz Milhazes' Coisa Linda ("Something Beautiful"), from the Contemporary Editions series published by the Museum of Modern Art's Library Council. Coisa Linda includes lyrics from Brazilian award-winning composers and musicians Gilberto Gil, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Arnaldo Antunes, and Edgard Scandurra among others.
For the exhibition, books will be displayed according to the specifications of the work. For example, while several of the books are too fragile to be handled, and will be shown under a vitrine, others will be made more accessible. Works by Russell Crotty, Takashi Murakami, and Monique van Genderen will be displayed on shelves or tables, and an attendant will be in the galleries at all times in order to turn pages for the public. Books by Brian Belott will be completely accessible, for the public to handle with Art Center staff supervision.
About the artists
Brian Belott (b. 1974 New Jersey; resides in Brooklyn) uses an ad-lib form of thickly layered collage to transform found children's books into unruly expressions of his idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness. According to Roberta Smith of The New York Times, Belott's "collage books are notable for their hot colors, compositional playfulness, sensitivity to images and general dedication to recycling the detritus of life."
Jonathan Callan, (b. 1961 Manchester, UK; resides in London) often works with found books, text, maps, and photographs, and transforms the physical aspects of these objects by reworking the surface until the original form is barely recognizable. The artist describes his work as an "investigation into the inherent physicality of a particular material, process, or situation."
Russell Crotty (b. 1956 San Rafael, CA; resides in Los Angeles) has been creating ballpoint pen drawings since the mid 1990s that document his telescope observations of the stars and planets in the ever-changing night skies above his home in Southern California. In Jupiter Strip Sketch Book (1996), his instinctive drawing style and the Zen quality of his work are illustrated in the undulating, repetitive forms of Jupiter's rings. Bound in an oversized, red linen book, the drawings reveal both the aesthetic value of scientific evidence and poetic nature of the universe.
Miriam Dym (b. 1969 Buffalo, NY; resides in Berkeley) is fascinated by maps and the absurdity inherent in scientific attempts to chart every inch of the world. A mosaic of her ink-jet prints is pieced together to form a hand-made book entitled Don't Forget to Ask for Directions (2001), while her Inventory of Delivery (2006) assembles whimsical renderings of trucks from her imagination into an amusing catalogue of doodles on wheels. She employs poetic and conceptual license and brings a strong sense of design to these works, which allow them to hover between the world of craft and innovation.
Simon Evans (b. 1972 London; resides in London) has created numerous framed works that are harvested directly from his sketchbooks. They show evidence of his obsessive process that involves scotch tape, correction fluid, and numerous layers of words and images. His subject matter addresses seemingly random topics, which range from the philosophical to the mundane.
Francesca Gabbiani (b. 1965 Montreal; resides in Los Angeles) is known for her extraordinarily intricate and colorful, cut-paper collage constructions. Her White Book is an artist's book that was inspired by the popular non-fiction novel, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The story takes the reader to the historic Chicago's World Fair of 1893, where a cunning serial killer stalked and murdered several women. Each page of White Book features a print or a laser-cut paper miniature of an architectural structure, revealing the beauty and magical appeal of the setting for horrifying events. This delicate accordion book also includes the words of Amy Gerstler, which transform the mood of the images from an innocent fairy tale to match the dark and violent story that inspired them.
Carlos Garaicoa (b. 1965 Havana, Cuba; resides in Havana) has built an impressive body of work that addresses Cuba's post-1960s politics and ideologies, and the role of modernist architecture played in that pursuit. His work varies from photography to sculpture and installation work. Here, he is represented by two pop-up books that illustrate his three-dimensional works in book form, offering a synopsis of the ideas behind his work.
David Hammons (b. 1943 Springfield, IL; resides in New York) is represented by a single book, his first artist's book, entitled The Holy Bible, Old Testament, which is a fine leather-bound, gilt edged, large-scale volume. Once this precious object is removed from its slipcase and opened, the artist's visual joke is revealed. The interior of the book is a soft-cover edition of Arturo Schwartz's Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp. Hammons' work often expresses his African-American perspective on visual-culture discourse; here, he provides a subtle, yet subversive critique of the almost omnipotent, sacred position that Duchamp's legacy holds in the eyes of many Western art historians, critics, and artists. His artist's book knowingly appropriates both the written word and the readymade to question history, and pose a challenge to Duchamp's status as the inventor of the readymade.
Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; resides in Rio) juxtaposes ornamental abstract images with poetic lyrics from some of the most influential Brazilian songwriters of the past 100 years. Known for her colorful and exuberant abstractions executed in a variety of mediums, Milhazes created Coisa Linda to explore the connection between music and image, specifically drawing influences from the sights and sounds of her native Rio de Janeiro. The forty-four-page book features a hand-printed cover, thirty-two screen prints hand-printed in forty colors, and a unique collage assembled by the artist, juxtaposed with lyrics from twelve traditional and contemporary Brazilian songs that inspired her.
Takashi Murakami (b. 1962 Tokyo; resides in Tokyo and New York) has collaborated with pop musician Yujin Kitagawa to create his first picture book for children. The title, Keba Keba, is the main character's name, and is Japanese for "gaudy tawdry". Along with the general release of the book, the artist produced a limited deluxe edition, which includes a white vinyl cover, seven original lithographs by Murakami, and text in English and Japanese. Each lithograph is a colorful illustration of this charming, poignant, and slightly enigmatic story of a generous yet friendless creature.
Paul Noble (b. 1963 Dilston, Northumberland, UK; resides in London) In contrast to Noble's large-scale intricate drawings, this collection of books shows the artist departing from his usual virtuosic draftsmanship and labor-intensive methods, for a more free-flowing painting style that emphasizes content over form. Each of these found books is given a new, hand-painted cover, complete with title and author; together, they offer a play-on-words and afford at least a grin, if not a chuckle. Noble's humor recalls the juvenile practical jokes of a teenager, who has newly discovered the satiric possibilities of language.
Monique van Genderen (b. 1965 Vancouver, BC; resides in Los Angeles) is known for her site-specific wall installations of abstract pattern created with a combination of cut vinyl and acrylic paint. In a shift from the public to the private, van Genderen has produced a series of books to be displayed on an artist-designed walnut shelf, and viewed in a more intimate setting. The books, beautifully bound in dark-brown linen, vary in size and shape. The pages are filled with vibrant watercolor washes that share with her larger compositions an interest in the play of light and surface, and take advantage of the fluidity of watercolor.
Martin Wilner (b. 1959 Bronx, New York; resides in New York City) is a psychiatrist and artist. His ongoing diary project, Journal of Evidence Weekly, represents the convergence of his interests in psychiatry and art. The project, which has now grown to over 123 volumes of drawings, is executed while Wilner travels on the subways of New York City in the in-between intervals of daily life. The pages of these small-scale, leather-bound booklets are filled with intricate and fanciful ink drawings of the world around him.
About the publication
A small, illustrated publication for Off the Shelf will include a curatorial essay, artist biographies, a checklist of the works in the exhibition, and two newly commissioned poems. The poems, written by Michael Joyce and Joshua Beckman, are inspired by the topic of the book as an art object. Joyce, Professor of English and Media Studies at Vassar College, has published collections of short fiction, prose pieces, and essays about technology, as well as numerous hypertext fictions. His most recent novel, Liam's Going, was published by McPherson and Company in 2002. Beckman earned a BA from Hampshire College, where he studied poetry and the art of the book. He is the author of five books of poetry: Things Are Happening (1998); Something I Expected To Be Different (2001); Nice Hat. Thanks. (2002), written with Matthew Rohrer; Your Time Has Come (2004), and most recently, Shake (2006).
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 16,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American twentieth century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson Valley cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and Olana, the Frederic Edwin Church home. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit http://fllac.vassar.edu.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.