The call for entries to “The Book as Art,” the national juried exhibition on view at the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur through September 20, produced as fine a range of contemporary approaches to the making of artists’ books as we are likely to see locally for some time.
The jury consisted of Brian Dettmer, Atlanta’s best-known book artist; Art Institute faculty member Jerushia Graham; and Beck Whitehead of the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio. They selected 50 works from 20 U.S. states, Canada and Israel. The exhibition, co-sponsored by the Decatur Arts Alliance, is intended to complement the Decatur Book Festival.
There are lovely examples of what is sometimes called the livre d’artiste: finely printed and bound volumes of illustrated narratives printed with handset type or, in the case of George Walker’s “The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson,” a story told entirely with woodcuts.
Then there is “Whatever You Call ‘Em,” Sara Brooks’ subversive book in an actual brassiere. Produced for a breast cancer fund-raiser, it contains a colloquial term for female breasts on each page, printed on the background of a digitally copied bra pattern.
Moving even further away from the artist’s book as a traditionally formatted precious object, Woody Leslie’s “Books on Tape” series presents small blank books with the containers for other “antique storage media” as their covers: an audiocassette, a VHS cassette, a 3.5-inch floppy disc and so on, all of which have been largely displaced by the headlong rush to the Internet and its downloadable data.
This sort of commentary isn’t particularly controversial, and the politically engaged, mass-edition artist’s book movement of a generation or two ago isn’t represented in this exhibition.
What is present instead frequently approaches sheer aesthetic magic. Alexis Arnold’s “Chemistry: An Experimental Science” is a textbook of that title encrusted with a borax coating that glistens spectacularly even as it illustrates the chemical process of crystallization.
Other works also defy categorization. Candace Hicks’ “Common Threads Vol. XLVI” contains a text that is stitched with thread into the page rather than printed on it. Nora Hartlaub’s punning “The Boring Book Jacket” is a full-scale cloth jacket with multiple pockets that hold little books that reproduce receipts, an overripe banana and other things that might find their way into a more conventional jacket pocket.
The locally created works are consistently spectacular and stand their ground against the best of the competition. Anne Beidler’s “50 Books” appear framed as a single work in a floor-to-ceiling configuration, while Whitney Stansell’s “The Happening, the Remembering, the Recounting” spreads its paper-cutout backdrop and stand-alone figures as a diorama across an entire side gallery.
The pages of Samira Rahimi’s intricately laser-cut “Zobeideh by italo calvino” present a reconfiguration of one of the Italian author’s “invisible cities.” Macey Ley’s “TV Dinner for Zombies” is a clever painted facsimile of an old-school such tinfoil dinner, with appropriate texts concealed beneath the fold-up flaps of the trompe l’oeil tray’s food compartments.
As if all this weren’t enough (and I’ve mentioned barely one-fifth of the works on display), one of the most innovative objects has been donated as the inaugural piece in an artists’ books collection that the Arts Alliance and the Decatur Book Festival will exhibit throughout the year in metro-area public libraries. Martin and Erik Demaine have transformed Alice’s remark “curiouser and curiouser” in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” into a continuous strand of folded elephant-hide paper enclosed in a handblown glass vessel. (For more on this combination of art and science, click here.)
Docents will turn the normally off-limits pages and disassemble and reconfigure the books’ assorted intricacies during the Decatur Book Festival, August 30-September 2. Reception: 6-9 p.m. Thursday, August 29.
On our home page: “A Mother’s Early Morning Prayer” by Andi Arnovitz
Click here to view more pieces from the exhibition.