Dead Feminists Live Again

Bold Broadsides and Bitsy Books is on view in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC). From the public nature of broadsides to the intimacy of a tiny handmade book, the LRC revels in contrasts of delightful collection items.

A visitor studies broadsides in the NMWA Library and Research Center; Photo: Francesca Rudolph, NMWA

A visitor studies broadsides in the NMWA Library and Research Center; Photo: Francesca Rudolph, NMWA

“Bitsy Books” refers to a charming selection of miniature artists’ books from the LRC’s collection. Miniature books, defined as books no larger than three inches in height, width, or thickness, communicate a sense of whimsy and intimacy from their size alone. The handcrafted quality of artists’ books enhances this sense, creating an intimate experience for the viewer. The “Bitsy Books” included in the exhibition vary in content, structure, and material.

The “Bold Broadsides” represent a 21st-century interpretation of a much older medium. Broadsides can be traced back to 17th-century Europe as precursors to modern-day posters and billboards. In the U.S., broadsides are perhaps most famous for their use as “Wanted” signs by 19th-century law enforcement agencies. The broadsides featured in this exhibition celebrate the lives of remarkable women from history. Called the “Dead Feminists,” these works are a collaboration between printmaker Jessica Spring and illustrator Chandler O’Leary. Each broadside highlights one woman’s achievements through an iconic quote paired with a corresponding illustration.

Peace Unfolds for Hiroshima survivor and pacifist Sadako Sasaki; © Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring

Peace Unfolds for Hiroshima survivor and pacifist Sadako Sasaki; © Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring

Spring describes their process as “a mix of traditional and contemporary letterpress processes…Our series is completely hand drawn by Chandler, using original illustrations and typography…then I print [the broadsides] by hand on a 1960s Vandercook Universal One printing press.” Spring selects women to feature and writes the colophon for each. O’Leary creates an illustration in pencil, refines it, and re-draws it in ink. At this stage, Spring creates the photopolymer plates needed for printing. Both artists sign and package the finished prints, and O’Leary launches the work online.

Sarojini Naidu sings her Nightsong; © Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring

Sarojini Naidu sings her Nightsong; © Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring

Not only stunning as visual works, each broadside highlights a relevant social justice issue. For example, the fight for marriage equality prompted Spring and O’Leary to create Love Nest, featuring a quote from activist Emma Goldman. Nightsong, honoring Indian heroine Sarojini Naidu, implores an end to domestic violence. Through the Dead Feminists Fund, Spring and O’Leary donate a portion of the series’ proceeds to nonprofits that align with the social issues they address.

In October 2016, Spring and O’Leary also released a letterpress book compilation of the series titled Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center through March 17, 2017 to see Bold Broadsides and Bitsy Books. Located on the museum’s fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Lydia Hejka is the fall 2016 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Beyond the Fold: Colette Fu’s Pop-Ups

Did you know that early pop-up books were intended for adults and not children? The earliest examples of movable books illustrated scientific theories. It was not until the 18th century that these pop-up techniques were applied to books designed for entertainment.

Installation view of Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of  two of Colette Fu’s pop-ups in Wanderer/Wonderer; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Colette Fu (b. 1965, New Jersey) is an American photographer and pop-up paper engineer whose work reflects ideas of identity and its relation to society. The special exhibition Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu, on view at NMWA through February 26, 2017, features ten pop-up books that explore Fu’s personal experiences through combined images of people, architecture, and nature.

Four works from Fu’s earlier series “Haunted Philadelphia” explore some of the spooky landmarks of the historic city. She ventured into “dark tourism” attractions, including Fort Mifflin and the Byberry Mental Hospital, which inspired her large-scale pop-up books.

Colette Fu, Rodin Museum: Lovers, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” 2005–06; Artist’s book with color prints, Chinese Joss paper, and Philadelphia newspapers, 53 x 36 x 22 in. (open); NMWA; Museum purchase with funds donated by Lynn Johnston and Julie Garcia

Colette Fu, Rodin Museum: Lovers, from the series “Haunted Philadelphia,” 2005–06; Artist’s book with color prints, Chinese Joss paper, and Philadelphia newspapers, 53 x 36 x 22 in. (open); NMWA; Museum purchase with funds donated by Lynn Johnston and Julie Garcia; © Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

One work from Fu’s “Haunted Philadelphia” series, Rodin Museum: Lovers, was inspired by the  story of two lovers who secretly met at the museum’s garden but were separated and died tragically. Associating the story with the unhappy love affair of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, Fu created pop-up versions of their sculptures in the museum’s garden.

Colette Fu, Yi Costume Festival, from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” 2008–14; Artist’s book with color prints, yarn, and Chinese brocade fabric, 32 x 31 x 9 in. (open); Courtesy of the artist

Colette Fu, Yi Costume Festival, from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People,” 2008–14; Artist’s book with color prints, yarn, and Chinese brocade fabric, 32 x 31 x 9 in. (open); © Colette Fu; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Soon after graduating college, Fu traveled to China’s Yunnan Province where she reconnected with her family’s roots and found a sense of pride and identity that encouraged her to pursue her passion for photography and storytelling. Fu’s series “We are Tiger Dragon People” (2008-13) depicts the culture and traditions of Yunnan and other minority areas.

“As I grow older I start to understand the importance of preserving one’s identity and culture, and the significance of learning one’s roots,” says Fu. She traveled specifically to photograph ethnic minority groups as a way to preserve their identities and spread awareness of their existence. Tales passed on from experts and elders inspired Fu’s vivid representations. Her works share stories of folk festivals, ritual celebrations, and local cooking.

The pop-up Dai Food from the series “We are Tiger Dragon People” introduces viewers to the cooking of the Dai people, one of the ethnic minorities in the Yunnan province. Fu photographed a young Dai woman wearing a long skirt and bodice. She is shown with street-food specialties of the region such as grilled chicken, fish, pig tail, pork liver, and snails.

Fu blurs the line between the real and the imagined. Through her pop-up masterpieces, Fu says that she wants “eliminate boundaries between people, book, installation, photography, craft, and sculpture.”

Wanderer/Wonderer: Pop-Ups by Colette Fu is on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts through February 26, 2017.

—Francisca Rudolph is the fall 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“Puzzle de Brasil”: A Topographical Tourist Map

While the 2016 Rio Olympic Games encourage development in Brazil and bolster the country’s worldwide reputation, NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) is showing a work that also revels in Brazilian pride. Priya Pereira’s artist book Puzzle de Brasil, originally published in 2001, is on view in Priya Pereira: Contemporary Artists’ Books from India. This moveable puzzle book celebrating Brazilian culture is on display in the LRC until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira

Book artist Priya Pereira

Pereira’s Puzzle de Brasil explores the country’s most notable cultural, political, and ecological wonders through interactive screen-printed and hand-sewn cardboard flaps. Printed on each flap is a boldfaced word or icon illuminating aspects of the Brazilian experience. In particular, Pereira references Brazil’s love of football (soccer) by including the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) logo. Viewers can detect mentions of Ipanema and the Metropolitan Cathedral, as well as illustrations of the samba and anacondas.

When handling the book, readers often devise their own methods of unfolding the complex, layered flaps. When lifted and manipulated in certain ways, Puzzle de Brasil’s moveable components can create a flat or three-dimensional artist’s book. With its cardboard base adorned with long strands of colored text and raised flaps, the book serves as a topographical tourist map—representative of Brazil’s complex geography. In this way, the work’s structure portrays the country as a mix of flatlands, jungles, mountains, and rivers.

Priya Pereira, Puzzle de Brazil, interior, 2001; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks

Puzzle de Brasil, interior, 2001; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks

Pereira’s choice to embellish her work with blue, yellow, and green mirrors the colors of the Brazilian flag. Three overarching “tiers” each correspond with one of the flag’s three colors. The interactive book encourages readers to unfold the flaps in a blue-yellow-green order. Pereira says, “Open left to right, right to left, north to south, or vice-versa. One clue: follow the colors of Brazil—blue, yellow, and green to make it easy for you.” Pereira’s vibrant and complex book reveals some of Brazil’s cultural treasures and allows viewers to develop a deeper appreciation for the country.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of Priya Pereira’s books. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Emily Benoff is the summer 2016 Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wordplay and Whimsy: Priya Pereira’s Book Art

NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) currently features an exhibition showcasing works by book Mumbai-based artist Priya Pereira. The artist explores Indian culture, history, time, and language in her contemporary creations. Ten of her books will be on display until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Pereira received her training in graphic design from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Bardoa, Western India. After graduating, she worked for five years in advertising, which later came to inform her artistic mindset. Pereira says, “Having studied graphic design and thanks to advertising, I came to artists’ books from a place where ‘idea’ was the most important thing… The most thrilling part is coming up with an idea.” In 1993 she moved to the United States to study computer art at Memphis College of Art. In a papermaking class at school, she learned about book binding and began creating book art—a genre she did not know existed until years later.

Pereira returned to India and continued to create books: innovative, vibrant works of art. Beyond using traditional materials like paper and string, Pereira incorporates mirrored surfaces and iron. Her books prompt viewers to rethink the medium’s limits. Whimsical, bold—even comical—her work tackles the complexities of contemporary life in India. The artist cites “living and breathing in India” as a major source of her artistic inspiration.

In one work, The Book of F (1999), the artist uses wordplay and humor. Each page of the small book has short lyrics composed of words that start with F. Pereira describes it as “dotted with ditties that popularize the ‘F’ word without once mentioning the most used and abused word.”

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

NMWA’s exhibition also features a set of booklets titled The Other Side of ABC (2003). Their structure and composition recall that of a child’s toy. Pereira explains, “The structure of the book is based on a street toy sold by the wandering balloon sellers along with plastic watches and other cheap toys. The original toy is not an alphabet book, but has pictures of different fruits, modes of transportation, et cetera, and in the center is a piece of glass, not a mirror as I have used.” The interiors of Pereira’s booklets reveal depictions of Indian street art as well as letters surrounding the mirrors.

Priya Pereira has published limited-edition works under the imprint Pixie Bks for the last 23 years. Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of the artist’s books, and use an in-gallery iPad to scroll through the pages of ditties in The Book of F. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Elisabetta Gut

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Elisabetta Gut, whose work is currently on view in NMWA’s galleries.

Elisabetta Gut (b.1934)

1. Who Knew?

Gut began her artistic career as a painter, but in the 1960s, she started to search for a new form of expression. Inspired by avant-garde artists’ use of experimental materials, she created her first book-object in 1964.

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Elisabetta Gut’s works (left to right): Book in a Cage, 1981; Gift of the artist; Libro-Seme (Seed-Book), 1983; Gift of the artist; Photographs by Lee Stalsworth

2. Lost & Found

Whether trapping a French-Italian dictionary in a cage or “growing” music from a seed, Gut often incorporates found objects in her work. Each object’s unique history is incorporated into a new context.

3. What’s in a Name?

Though Gut’s artist books encourage close looking rather than traditional reading, words still play a role. Her titles provide insight into the inspiration, materials, or thoughts behind a work.

Elisabetta Gut, The Firebird (From Stravinksy), 1985; Gift of H.G. Spencer in honor of Lorraine Grace - See more at: http://nmwa.org/works/firebird-stravinsky#sthash.GnLWHaCp.dpuf

Elisabetta Gut, The Firebird (From Stravinksy), 1985; Gift of H.G. Spencer in honor of Lorraine Grace

4. Art Begets Art

Gut’s work frequently draws inspiration from her favorite works of art, music, or poetry. The Firebird, for example, visually interprets music from Igor Stravinsky’s famous ballet.

5. Book as Art

Artists’ books blur the lines between visual art and literary art. Works by Elisabetta Gut are currently on view in both the exhibition Super Natural and the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center. See if you can find both works during your next visit!

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Books Without Words (in a book with words)

The catalogue for Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut includes essays by exhibition curator Krystyna Wasserman and Gut’s fellow Italian book artist Mirella Bentivoglio, along with beautiful color reproductions of each of the delightful treasures in the show. The founder of NMWA’s Library and Research Center and a foremost authority on book arts, Wasserman writes:

“Many of Gut’s works are visual representations of poetry, music, and art and as such are built on the aesthetics of ekphrasis. From Homer’s description of the Shield of Achilles in the Odyssey to Ellen Zwillich’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (inspired by five paintings from NMWA’s collection and composed for the inauguration of the museum in April 1987), ekphrasis describes one form of art interpreted in another medium. In the spirit of ekphrasis, poetry can depict sculpture, dance can portray painting, and collage can evoke the sounds of a musical instrument. Gut’s ekphrastic representations of music reflect the changeable emotional climate in which she lives. Her three works titled Strumento musicale (Musical Instrument) (1980–81) are composed of thread, pieces of sheet music, and organic matter such as dried seeds and leaves collaged into imaginary instruments. Libro-seme (Seed-book) (1983) is a book-object assembled from sheet music bound by the split shell of a small fruit. The notes represent seeds from which culture grows and blossoms. Musica impazzita (Crazy Music) (1983), a collage made of an ancient book of Gregorian chants and shaped like a butterfly arrested in motion, serves as a metaphor for transformation, mortality, and the constant human passage from one stage of life to another. Strumento musicale (p dolce) (Musical Instrument (p dolce)) offers peace and solace while Explosionoire (1985) brings about the rhythm and excitement of jazz through the burst of scattered words and letters extending into the viewer’s space.

Complementing her love of music is Gut’s passion for poetry. She voraciously reads French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish verse. French poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898) wrote in his essay “The Book: A Spiritual Instrument,” 1895, that “all earthly existence must ultimately be contained in a book.”1 Gut abstracts and transposes works by her favorite poets and composers into “spiritual instruments.” She literally translated Mallarme’s idea into a series of hybrid artist’s books: Libro-piano (Piano-book) (1982), Libro-nido (1982), Libro-foglio (Leaf-book) (1982), Libro-finestra (Window-book) (1980), and Libro-seme (1983). These works bring new associations to the book format by demonstrating the relationships between the natural and man-made worlds and the book—emblem of civilization and culture. Reminiscences of the past triggered the creation of these works: Libro-piano brings back to life Gut’s mother playing the piano while Libro-nido, Libro-seme, and Libro-foglio portray the artist’s sublime experience of feeling one with nature.

Gut’s Fumo d’autore (A Kafka a Kafka) (Author’s Smoke (To Kafka to Kafka)) (1983) honors Franz Kafka. Gut is familiar with Kafka’s stories and letters, but does not allude directly to the contents of her muse’s oeuvre. Looking at Gut’s symbolic representation of the Czech writer—smoke rising from the butt of a half-burnt cigarette—viewers might think that Kafka was an obsessive smoker. “I am interested in a gesture of a cigarette smoker and the passage of time needed to smoke a cigarette,” says the artist. But Kafka biographer Reiner Stach writes that Kafka “did not smoke or drink, and stayed away from tea, coffee, and animal fat.”2 When asked about the misleading representation of Kafka, Gut responded, “It was a fantasy. I imagined him as a smoker.”

Gut’s oeuvre represents a mirror of memories, images, and real people. Her visual poetry is accessible and her books do not require reading and the time consumed by reading. Their messages are compressed and universal, expressing love for nature or another person, fascination with music, or a sense of loss. Pacchetto di poesia (Package of Poetry) (1979) —a 1 x 1–inch wrapped package tied with string—embodies the works in Books Without Words. In the exhibition Gut offers the viewer a gift of twenty-two “packages of poetry,” reliquaries of poetic thinking. Most of them have no words, and some contain invisible secrets locked forever, but as the Little Prince once said in Antoine Saint Exupéry’s philosophical fairy tale: What is essential is invisible to the eye.3″

Notes

1 Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years, trans. Shelley Frisch (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005) p. 31.

2 Stéphane Mallarmé, “The Book: A Spiritual Instrument,” in Stéphane Mallarmé, Stéphane Mallarmé: Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Mary Ann Caws (New York: New Directions, 1982), 80.

3 Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince. Trans. Katherine Woods (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1943), 87.

Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut (Softcover, 48 pages, $10.95) is available in the Museum Shop. Call 877-226-5249 to order.

Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut

 

Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut features twenty-two works by the artist carefully crafted from her dreams, memories, and love for music and poetry.

Gut was born in Rome in 1934. “During World War II,” Gut says, “my parents sent me to Switzerland. But the trauma of being separated from my parents … gravely affected my behavior. At age eleven, when I returned to my family in Rome, I was confused and had difficulty communicating with people. All I wanted to do was … escape into the realm of imagination, a better world than the one around me.”

Gut studied at the Art Institute and later, from 1953 to 1956, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. She was given her first solo painting show at the age of twenty-two. But in the 1960s Gut began to search for a new visual language. She was fascinated with the experimental use of materials and the ideas of avant-garde artists. In 1964 she created her first book-object, Diario. From that time on, book-objects, object-poems, and artists’ books that reflect the beauty, sadness, and fragility of life became her favorite media.

Gut’s 14 Chiodi (L’impronta di Man Ray) (14 Nails (The Man Ray Footprint)), 1991, was inspired by Man Ray’s famous Gift, 1921, an iron with a row of fourteen nails glued to the flat ironing surface. Using an iron, Gut burned the pages of a book and pressed nails into the paper to create fourteen little stigmata, suggesting a “mark” of Man Ray’s original piece. Like Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, Gut employed a variety of found materials, including newsprint, photographs, sheet music, threads, leaves, seeds, and shells of exotic fruits. She developed a visual language in which the arrangement of words, images, symbols, signs, and metaphors express in pictorial terms her ideas, secrets, and intimate emotions.

Elisabetta Gut, 14 Chiodi (L’impronta di Man Ray) (14 Nails (The Man Ray Footprint)), 1991; Altered book and burnt paper; 9 x 9 x 1 ½ in.; On loan from the artist

Many of Gut’s works are built on the aesthetics of ekphrasis. Ekphrasis describes one form of art interpreted in another medium—poetry depicting a sculpture, for example, or dance portraying a painting. Strumento musicale (p dolce) (Musical Instrument (p dolce))composed of thread, pieces of sheet music, and dried seeds and leaves collaged into an imaginary instrument—offers peace and solace, while Explosionoire (Explosion), 1985, brings about the rhythm and excitement of jazz through the burst of scattered words and letters.

Complementing her love of music is Gut’s passion for poetry. Gut abstracts and transposes works by her favorite poets and composers. L’uccello di fuoco (Da Stravinsky) (The Firebird (From Stravinsky)), 1985, evokes the lightness and plumage of a beautiful bird and animates Igor Stravinsky’s “glorious lava flow of sound.” À Paul Éluard, 1985, embodies the mystery of love, passion, and sensuality—the quintessence of the French poet’s verses—through random dark forms protruding into the air.

Gut’s Fumo d’autore (A Kafka a Kafka) (Author’s Smoke (For Kafka to Kafka)), 1983, honors Franz Kafka but does not allude directly to his oeuvre. Looking at Gut’s symbolic representation of the Czech writer—smoke rising from the butt of a half-burnt cigarette—viewers might think that Kafka was an obsessive smoker. But Kafka did not smoke or drink. When asked about the misleading representation, Gut responded, “It was a fantasy. I imagined him as a smoker.”

Gut’s oeuvre represents a mirror of memories, images, and real people. The artist’s messages are universal, conveying love for nature or another person, fascination with music, or a sense of loss. Books Without Words offers viewers reliquaries of poetic thinking to contemplate and behold.

–Krystyna Wasserman is curator of book arts at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut is organized by NMWA and made possible by the generous support of Margaret M. Johnston.

Elisabetta Gut, L’uccello di fuoco (Da Stravinsky) (The Firebird (From Stravinsky)), 1985; Paper cutout, wood, and collage; 8 ½ x 11 x 2 ¼ in.; Gift of H.G. Spencer in honor of Lorraine Grace

Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut

Endowed with an aura of originality and poetic whimsy, Elisabetta Gut’s book-objects must be seen rather than read. Gut was born in Rome and has lived there ever since. She studied at the city’s art institute and later at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1964 Gut created her first book-object Diario (Diary), and from that time on she has devoted most of her energy to the exploration of the relationship among language, music, image, and nature through book arts and visual poetry.

Buzz Spector, the conceptual and book artist, describes book-objects as “a genre of artwork that refers to forms, relations, and configurations of the book.” A uniqueness and tactile physicality defines Gut’s book-objects. Ideas are expressed through the symbolic meanings of found or fabricated objects, rather than through words. The artist frequently uses organic matter such as leaves, seeds, and wood in her work.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is home to more than 1,000 artist’s books. This fall, NMWA will host “Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut”. Featured in the exhibition will be Volo-volume (Flight Volume), 1980, from NMWA’s collection (below).

Elisabetta Gut, “Volo-volume” (Flight Volume), 1980; Paper, wood, wool, spray paint; Museum purchase: Library and Research Center Book Acquisition Fund

Krystyna Wasserman is Curator of Book Arts at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  Since 1987, she has carefully assembled NMWA’s outstanding collection of artists’ books and has curated numerous exhibitions.

NMWA unveils new Library Fellows artist book

When is a book a work of art? It might be a handmade sculptural object, or an illustrated manuscript, or even an artist-designed exhibition catalogue. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is a leader in the promotion of artists’ books as an art form, contributing to the field through active collecting of artists’ books by women, through its Book as Art exhibition series, and through the Library Fellows Program.*

Last Wednesday marked the Twentieth annual meeting of NMWA’s Library Fellows. Now what, you may ask, is the Library Fellows Program?

the streets of used to be

Stout displaying the book to the Library Fellows with Beane in the background

The Library Fellows Program was established in 1989 to encourage and support the creation of artists’ books and to benefit the Library and Research Center. They hold a competition (formerly every year, now every other), where book artists submit mock ups of artist books for consideration by the group. The Fellows’ contributions are used to produce the artist’s book proposed by the winner in a limited edition of 125 copies (25 of which go to the artist, while the rest are sold at our museum shop).*

During the meeting (aside from all the business matters) was the big reveal of the finished book produced by last year’s winners, poet Carol A. Beane and artist Renée Stout. Their book, the streets of used to be, is a combination of six of Beane’s poems and five of Stout’s images (created in a variety of media, then scanned and reproduced onto the pages) on individual pages slipped into the pockets of an accordion style handcrafted paper folder. The book itself is a symphony of tactile and visual experiences, from the abaca-cotton blend of the folder, to the intense colors and images, to the pages which you can reorder to suit your preferences.

When asked how they came up with the ideas behind the streets of used to be Beane stated that she drew her inspiration from the life she sees in and on the streets while walking in DC; from efforts to survive with some measure of dignity, from people biding time. Stout wanted to create with her paintings visual metaphors of Beane’s poems, to have her images distill and resonate with the emotions of Beane’s poetry. The finished product is a stunning combination of words that meander like city streets and images of brilliant color and symbolism.

About the Author: Malini Sud is NMWA’s Library and Research Center Assistant.

*Information taken from here

"Hard Copy: Book as Sculpture" and NMWA’s First Artist’s Book

This month, NMWA celebrates the opening of Hard Copy: Book as Sculpture — a new exhibition of artist’s books organized by NMWA’s Krystyna Wasserman, Curator of Book Arts. On view through January 17, 2010, the exhibition features 16 artist’s books in non-traditional media. In Krystyna’s own words:

“Book as sculpture expands the concept of the book, taking it into new territory where it becomes that unattainable ‘object of desire’ to be admired from a distance.  Hard Copy plays a game with the viewers. The works are tactile but they cannot be touched. The pages of books cannot be turned. The exhibition challenges  viewers’ expectations and questions the distinction between book and sculpture.”

Mirella Bentivoglio, "Mirella Cinderella", 1997, Marble, china, and paper; featured in "Hard Copy: Book as Sculpture" at NMWA through January 17, 2010

Mirella Bentivoglio, “Mirella Cinderella”, 1997, Marble, china, and paper, 5 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 8 in.; featured in “Hard Copy: Book as Sculpture” at NMWA through January 17, 2010

While organizing this exhibition, Krystyna had the opportunity to reflect on NMWA’s role in researching, collecting, and exhibiting artist’s books by women.  With over 1,000 artist’s books, NMWA is home to one of the premier collections of artist’s books in the world. Below, Krystyna recalls how  NMWA’s first artist’s book (Caroline, 1985, by Meret Oppenheim) came into the collection.

“I have been fascinated by Meret Oppenheim (1913-1985) since my first visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The fur-lined tea cup was so wonderfully absurd that I felt instantly seduced by the Swiss Dadaist who created this work, officially titled Object.

“In February 1984 I went to Cleveland to attend the conference of ARLIS/NA (Art Libraries Society of North America), and present a paper on the development of NMWA’s Library and Research Center.  Between the sessions, I ran to the Cleveland Institute of Art where I discovered an exhibition of artists’ books. Enchanted, I spent most of the afternoon in the galleries and returned to Washington determined to present equally exciting exhibitions of artists’ books in our future library. From the outset, NMWA founder Mrs. Holladay embraced the idea of collecting and exhibiting artists’ books.  An early trip to New York to visit Tony Zwicker, the late dealer and a knowledgeable enthusiast of artist’s books resulted in the acquisition of Meret Oppenheim’s book Caroline, the first artist’s book in NMWA’s collection.

Meret Oppenheim, "Caroline", 1985, Letterpress, colored etchings, embossing, 5 1/2 x 11 in.

Meret Oppenheim, “Caroline”, 1985, Letterpress, colored etchings, embossing, 5 1/2 x 11 in.

“Although quite different from Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea cup that I first encountered in New York, Caroline had all the exquisite qualities of the artist’s unique style. Not everybody knows it, but Oppenheim wrote beautiful lyrical poems in French and in German and was an accomplished printmaker. Caroline includes twenty-three etchings and embossings, and honors the memory of Caroline [Karoline] Von Günderode, the romantic German poet (1780-1806) who took her own life with a dagger at the age of twenty-six because she was unalbe to reconcile her literary ambitions with the upheavals of her emotional life. ‘I have no taste for women’s virtues, for women’s delights. I like only what is wild, great, glorious,’ Von Günderode  wrote in 1801 in one of her published letters. Oppenheim’s poems and abstract etchings in Caroline are not specifically related to the tragic life and death of Von Günderode; rather, they are fleeting impressions of landscapes where surreal encounters occur, where roses consume marzipans and hunters ask deer for a glass of water.

“Caroline was the last work created by Meret Oppenheim. On her 72nd birthday on October 6, 1985, the artist announced to her friends, ‘I will die before the first snow.’ Five weeks later, she died of a heart attack after signing all the 89 copies (including our copy #48) on November 15, the day of the scheduled publication party at the Edition Fanal in Basel.

“The grand opening of NMWA’s Library and Research Center on  September 21, 1987 included our first exhibition of artists’ books, The Book as Art.  Meret Oppenheim’s Caroline was the star of that exhibition.”

About the Author: Krystyna Wasserman is Curator of Book Arts at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  Since 1987, she has carefully assembeld NMWA’s outstanding collection of artists’ books and has curated numerous exhibitions.