Book Art at the Getty Museum 2018

I first became aware of a new exhibition at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles through an ad for its catalogue in the New York Review of Books. Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists was the title. Did I need a copy? Through a nice coincidence, I was going to be in southern California while the show was still there.

This is part of a set of photographs on the wall. Tricksy!

L to R: Olafur Eliasson's Your House / Felipe Ehrenberg (see below) /Dieter Roth's Poetrie / Katherine Ng's A Hypothetical Analysis of the Twinkle in Stars/ Keith Smith's Book 91, String Book.

Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists is an exhibition of primarily large-scale bookworks that have a certain amount of flash to them. The introductory wall text, which is also at the website linked above, is right on: 
Artists' books occupy a creative space between traditional books and contemporary works of art, challenging what a book can be. This highly visual and experiential presentation of some of the most lively and surprising works from the Research Institute's extensive collections focuses on artists' books that can be unpacked, unfolded, unfurled, or disassembled. They are made to be displayed on the wall or deployed as sculptures or installations. The exhibition seeks to provoke new inquiry into the nature of art and to highlight the essential role that books play in contemporary culture.
I like the idea of the "creative space" as a way for the books to define themselves as what they are, not a notion of what others think they should be. And pointing out the "essential role that books play in contemporary culture" shows the wonderful transition of thought; books are not just closed and quiet on a shelf, but open, visible, accessible, "lively and surprising."

A hanging bookwork by Cecilia Vicuña made of wool.
(previous post about her solo exhibition is here.)

This piece links to the work she calls "quipus" (knots), and what her website talks about as "a poem in space." Here, if you were allowed to, you could comb through it with your fingers, untangling the meaning. Texture, text, textiles, and tactility are all connected and interwoven.

Two identical, extra-large vitrines housed a collection of unique books, a project called Bookscape, that seemed to be celebrating language and literature by Johanna Drucker. Titles of the individual books include, "aphorisms" and "oeuvre" and "with respect to form"  and "actual/factual." One vitrine held the books, the other held their slipcases and containers, all shiny silver. Nicely curated so that each and its box were in the same position from one vitrine to the other. According to Drucker's website, the project was meant "to resemble a Neiman Marcus gift box." The playfulness and physicality of this project is quite appealing.

Videos of a few of the books unfolding and being handled are shown at the Getty exhibition link as well. Some essays may be found here.

Several of the artists included are from the longtime book art world, people I have met or know of, in particular: Johanna Drucker, Timothy C. Ely, Daniel E. Kelm, my friend Katherine Ng (I wrote about her new year's cards here), Felicia Rice, Keith A. Smith, and Buzz Spector. And other familiar and famous folks: Chris Burden, Dave Eggers, Olafur Eliasson, Guillermo Gómez-Peña,  Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Sol Lewitt, Ed Ruscha, Cecilia Vicuña, and William Wegman. And those aren't all the eighty names.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Felicia Rice: DOC/UNDOC: Documentado/Undocumented: Ars Shamánica Performática, 2014. Gómez-Peña has been working to push boundaries and cross barriers in his performance work under the name Pocha Nostra for decades. In the early 1990s, he was the first Chicano/Mexican artist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

(Both are photos of this work: above, the props, and the colorful and lovely book, below, which has tons of tiny text.)

Longtime book artist and printer, Felicia Rice of Moving Parts Press will be featured in a new Craft in America.

Andrea Bowers: Sentimental Bitch, 2002. "Loose-leaf binders of sixty-eight Xerox prints of the periodical Bitch: The Women's Rock Newsletter with Bite." An activist who has worked with the Teamsters and the Standing Rock protests, Bowers and her work were also included in a 2017 NY Times article, "Protest Art in the Era of Trump."

Felipe Ehrenberg: Codex Aeroscriptus Ehrenbergensis: A Visual Score of Iconotropisms, 1990. Ehrenberg died in 2017; his obituary describes him as "the Conceptual artist who performed ephemeral actions to take art objects beyond the confines of the gallery space." He was a member of Fluxus, a group desiring to erase boundaries between life and art, employing everyday objects as art. At a residency at Nexus Press in Atlanta, Georgia, he created this book, "an anthology of his iconographic heritage of patterns." Nice double-sided accordion with a very L.A. feel on the back. According to the description in the Stanford Special Collections, the imagery is based on stencils he drew and hand cut, then reduced and photocopied. Each copy of the special edition contains a hand-sprayed image. There are still a few used copies out in the world for purchase.

Very funny Field Guide to North America and to Other Regions by William Wegman. Note the linguistic play: gull / guck / duck and frog / dog / log. 1993. You've undoubtedly seen his photographs and videos of his dog Man Ray, or the succeeding dog Fay Ray, and all the others ever after. This portfolio makes use of a variety of media: a photograph of an idyllic sunset, a checked blanket, several prints, and a photo of the idyllic sunset framed and hung on a tree. A crossover experience to make the viewer smile.

A stainless steel book, where the words dance off the pages, by Wei TianTo Be or Not to Be, 2015. To be a book or a sculpture, to be read or handled. Or not. According to a website, he is interested in opposites, in looking at both sides at once, and the idea of switching.

Hilarious (and a little kinky) shower curtain by Dave EggersA Monologue on a Shower Curtain; THE THING Quarterly, no. 16. 2011-2012. Although known primarily as a writer, Eggers was trained as a painter, and he exhibits widely. This is a fun object that combines a conceptual art piece with writing with an everyday object. Art and life merge.

In front: Lisa Anne Auerbach: American Megazine #2: The Age of Aquarius, 2014. The megazine you may have read about in the NY Times a few years ago: "So Print Is Dying? Don't Tell the Megazine." That's right: MEGAzine. The size of the coffee table itself, or rather, the dining room table. Art school always encourages its students to "make it bigger." In this case, bigger form equals larger presence.

On the wall: American Qur'an by Sandow Birk, 2005-2014. Birk's project is "to transcribe and illustrate all 114 chapters" and includes his contemporary urban illustrations. According to his website he is interested in social issues, and he has traveled widely, studied mural painting in Mexico, and won many grants and awards.

In the last room of the exhibition was a wonderful and extensive selection of works by Dieter Roth, including one of his infamous "literature sausages," which were shredded books he "can't stand or from authors I want to annoy" mixed with gelatin or lard and spices and stuffed in a sausage skin (1961-1970). All of these bookworks may be seen as photographs in a book, and that is primarily where I have seen them: Dieter Roth Books + Multiples: Catalogue Raisonne. Roth, born in Germany, but lived in Switzerland, Iceland, and the United States, worked in all media, from jewelry to designing posters, books, sculptures made of chocolate and birdseed, printmaker, filmmaker, musical composer, and more. He died in 1998.

You might notice that these books and their artists are interested in pushing, crossing, merging, blurring borders and boundaries with their works. There's another example of that "creative space," mentioned in the introductory wall text. 

I can think of two more perfect examples off the top of my head that could easily fit here (but are not in the exhibition or in the Getty special collections, so I'll just add them in!). Julie Chen's A Guide to Higher Learning (among others) is one that has "rigid pages" that are thick walls which open and unfold into a complex object as you "learn" the content, and Charles Hobson's Fresnel's Tower is another; the nested cylindrical forms can stack to become a lighthouse. According to Hobson's website, Augustin Fresnel "overcame learning disabilities to develop the complex lens for lighthouses." Okay, three books. Chen's Listening, is in the library's collection, and it would also make sense here, as the thick pages of the flag book can wiggle and clack to make sounds, and the book ties together with a ribbon to make a headress/hat. Book or hat? Silent or noisy?

With thousands of artist books in their collection, it is a wonder that The Getty Research Library was able to choose only eighty artists! But it was well done and with humor throughout, with just enough work so the viewer could understand the overview and be able to remember the works, and it was presented clearly, with space devoted to each. I haven't bought my catalogue of Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists yet, but I'm definitely tempted. The exhibition continues for another week, through October 31, 2018. I don't always exit a book show energized, but this time I did.


Susan King said…
Thanks for posting. I haven't been able to get to the show. Booked up with other stuff this summer and fall. A busy year. I heard it is terrific!
Alisa said…
Hi Susan! Yes, a great show. Thanks for writing. It's been a while! Hope your busy year is rewarding.