Books – Get ’em While they Last!

As we go through the digital revolution, artists are reacting as print products disappear before our eyes.

New York City’s New Museum is exhibiting The Last Newspaper, in which 27 artists “disassemble and re-contextualize elements of the newspaper… using methods of collage, mimicry, and repurposing, these works deconstruct the newspaper …”

The cover of an October New Yorker magazine featured Roz Chast’s “Shelved,” in which a young man sits in an overstuffed chair in a library with a laptop on his thighs. All the books on the shelves have been anthropomorphized with faces on their spines, wearing expressions of hurt, shock, befuddlement, rejection.

The New York Times featured a story about a store that is the last bastion for fine papers, as paper manufacturers are winding down. And an interesting side note: The fastest growing sector of the publishing business is the graphic novel.

In celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Princeton Public Library, the Arts Council of Princeton is presenting Material Translations: Artists’ Books from 1970 to Now through Nov. 24. The exhibit includes constructions by 17 artists who are working or have worked in the book format. There are books made of glass, embroidered fabric, handmade paper and found materials.

The artist book was established as a genre in the 1970s, according to guest curator Michael Joseph from the Rutgers University Libraries. “Just as the conceptualists had explored non-traditional media, book artists explored non-traditional media for making books, using wood, glass, fabric, even unusual animal skins,” Mr. Joseph writes in an essay for the exhibit.

By the 1990s, book arts expanded, and societies of book artists formed as did programs of study at colleges and museums.

Rocco Scary, a mixed media artist from North Caldwell, believes the house one grew up in, an old movie theater, the corner deli or a favorite street corner play a significant role in creating our memories, and these places are disappearing due to over development. In Material Translations, he has a book constructed of handmade paper, wood and digital prints, titled “Once Westinghouse,” that suggests a warehouse in Jersey City. The binding is made to look like an old red brick building with rows and rows of paned-glass windows; the prints inside depict women working at the machinery.

“It’s about the former life of the building,” says Andrea Honore, director of fund development at ACP. Ms. Honore initiated the idea for the exhibit and received a grant for it from the New Jersey Council on the Humanities.

Mr. Scary also has a “Coney Island Souvenir Book” made from broadsides and images of Coney. “Meet Me Under the Lemon” is a merry-go-round on a battery-operated turntable. The books “pages” are signs on the poles that go up and down. “He is exploring lost and nearly forgotten New Jersey and the surrounding area,” says Ms. Honore.

Miriam Schaer is a multimedia book artist who lives in Brooklyn, and has taught at ACP. She uses garments – girdles, bustiers, brassieres, aprons, children’s clothes – as means of containment. Inside these stiffened, shaped, embellished enclosures, she places books and other objects that document her explorations of feminine, social and spiritual issues. Here she has “Her Grace,” a mixed media book using a child’s dress, plastic toys, found objects and handmade Indian paper, as well as text by Emily Dickinson.

Speak of women’s undergarments, Karen Guancione’s “Guide del la Correspondance Amoureuse” contains scraps from antique books and actual love letters, wrapped with a racy red brassiere.

Sarah Stengle, who lives in Princeton and has a studio in Trenton, often creates intriguing works in books and paper. Her book with a fused glass cover, “Blue? Insert the Sky Into Your Brain,” comes with a gigantic glass syringe to fulfill the title’s command. In the back of the book one reads: “Watch for the Sequel: “A Better Life Through Deep Breathing.”

Using embroidery, collage, decoupage and dyed, sequined and appliqu├ęd fabric, Lois Morrison has created “Dark Ahab,” in which she has used the last sentence from each chapter of Moby Dick and creatively reworked it.

Chuck Miley creates pop-up books as a rebellion against the demise of the printed page – one can’t have a three-dimensional pop-up on a Kindl or E book… yet. “You have to have an object made of paper or other materials in your hands and move the pages to see what comes next,” he writes. “These are books that involve you visually, intellectually and in a tactile way.”

Working in collaboration with found object artist Deb Mell, Mr. Miley has created a glass-paneled book of “Shockheaded Peter,” which was performed at ACP last season.

From Amanda Thackray’s shredded diary encased in handmade soap to Marcia Wilson’s use of Chinese fortunes as the text, we see the different forms “books” can take. Book artist and ACP teacher Rebecca Kelly worked with Ms. Guancione on an installation in the front window. Hand-painted cards and shipping tags have been painstakingly hung from strands in the front window, giving the effect of falling leaves and adding color to Margaret Kennard Johnson’s nylon mesh book. This was one in a series that she did for the Princeton Public Library.

Note: Many of the books are displayed in glass cases on loan from the Princeton University Art Museum. In order to allow visitors a glimpse inside, a 20-minute video at the entrance shows the books being held, the pages being turned – although at this speed you won’t be able to read Paul Muldoon’s poem in Debra Weir’s wedding book. Study this carefully assembled work in the case, and read Mr. Muldoon’s poem in his book.

Where is book publishing headed? Even Terry Gross reads on a Kindl when she travels. Asha Ganpat, a young artist, has created a kind of E book holder from a wooden plank. Titled “Electronic Book with Covert Dictionary,” its dictionary is made up of blank pages.

Material Translations is on view at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, through Nov. 24. An Evening of Short Films related to the exhibition, Nov. 11, 7:30-9:30 p.m. 609-924-8777;

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1 Response to Books – Get ’em While they Last!

  1. What a thorough job you’ve done, Ilene, with this multi-faceted, mind-and-heart expanding exhibition at the Arts Council! I was particularly moved by Lore Lindenfeld’s mastery of her medium — there’s no one like Lore. She lives again in that room.

    Thank you for sending your readers to this superb (and superbly titled) exhibition; and for urging all to consider the fate of books in our time…


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