January 23, 2019
This was an especially good day for me at JCBA for lots of reasons. First I sat in on a colloquy with my friend the Boston fiber artist Beverly Sky, her friend the poet Ellen Bass and John Cutrone (who is usually too busy to sit down). I was a privileged listener as they discussed how artists who are working in a new place (as in a residency) find that the facilities or the materials on which they planned their projects are unavailable, and what they do then. Finding herself recently in that situation at a residency in France, Beverly produced a scroll-book on “bleu de lectoure,“ the color pervasive in the town, which she donated to the Jaffe.
At the gallery tour, one of today’s lively visitors had been to a presentation four years ago and had brought her friends. We began with the vitrines in the outer lobby filled with diverse examples of artists’ books, and excellent information about them. John is exceptionally skilled at writing brief interpretational material; he knows the collection so well that his choices are amazing, and in relatively few words he writes splendid introductions, so it was fun for me to guide these guests through the cases. Displaying artists’ books is a tough job, but as John said, Arthur designed the inner and outer spaces of gallery to be flexible.
As John talked about the books, our visitors had lots of questions about the definition of artists’ books with which we all wrestle. I started to think about examining works in terms of their “bookness,” that is, stretching my imagination and vocabulary to try to find the ways in which each object can be said to be a book. We can look at Jessica Poor’s “Pharmacy of Crippling Hope” the one that the visitor remembered from her prior visit, and note that it has a title, printed text, and a colophon even though it is in the shape and form of a pill bottle.
Daniel Kelm’s ‘Metamorphic Book’ is probably at the far end of the stretch – but Arthur loved it so much that he convinced Daniel to sell him the prototype. It’s an interconnected construction that folds/unfolds into many geometric shapes. What’s “booky” about it? It’s made of paper, board, its “pages” are rectangular and its information is offered sequentially (that is, you cannot see it all at once). Daniel describes this piece as “pure book”… it may just have the most “bookness” of any book in the Jaffe Collection!