Hey, cool kids! If you’re looking for something cool and underground to do, you should check out “Color Bound: Artists Seek Inspiration From Color Theory,” an exhibition at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, in the lower floor, all the way to the right, in the back corner.
I wasn’t kidding about the “underground” part.
While I don’t understand why the least colorful, poorly lit and most desolate part of an otherwise aesthetically pleasing library is home to a show on color, the exhibit overcomes its shoddy placement.
“Color Bound” features selections from the Faber Birren Collection of Books on Color at the Arts Library, a trove stocked with a range of color theory works dating back to the 16th century. This collection on color is considered one of the most complete collections on color systems, color standards and color nomenclature. Jae Jennifer Rossman, the Library’s assistant director for special collections, selected works that explore the influence of color theory on contemporary artists’ books, which are artworks in the form of books. These books use text, image and form as the components of their composition. While there are historical records of scientific studies by artists and scientists (think Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton) on color theory, it seems as if contemporary book artists are less experimental. Then, asks this quiet corner, how does the work of these predecessors affect book artists today? And what other resources (such as paint chip catalogues, advertisements and architecture) do they draw from?
Rossman organized the displayed bookworks into three categories. The first is a selection of historical texts on color theory, with the earliest work on display published in the 19th century. While these books do look back on some of the big names in color theory and other arts, such as Goethe and Schiller, I would have liked to see even older texts included so as to create a clearer material contrast between dated, now-crumbling journals and their contemporary equivalents. Such historical distance would help make it more striking to see the connections that do exist between today’s bookworks and those of the past.
The second part of the exhibit includes the contemporary conceptual works which help complete the argument the show is making: Here, these works tell us, is where we can note the lingering influence of historical color theorists. Expect to see works by Josef Albers, who was part of the now-defunct Department of Design at Yale. While students might have seen his art at the Yale University Art Gallery, which possesses a large Albers collection, or copies of his colorful designs as decorations (I’m talking colored squares within squares) in residential college butteries, it is an entirely novel experience to see his work on book pages alongside his words.
Finally, there is the display of books on color reference, the emotional and visual effects of simple switches between color swatches of the same image. This was a personal favorite. These books touch upon how we perceive the world, bringing us back to the origins of color theory and the reasons we make art in the first place. The catalogues also remind us why it has become necessary to name and categorize different colors and shades. In this vivid contemporary world, color is something easily taken for granted, but is also important artistically, scientifically and even economically.
So come see “Color Bound.” Learn a bit about the visual world and pick up a new favorite color.