A pair of new exhibitions seeks to explore a rich history of books as artistic treasures.
Opening this Friday, “Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection” at the Yale University Art Gallery and “CT (un)Bound” at Artspace on Orange Street will examine the role of the book today, incorporating a variety of works that question the boundaries of the book art medium. Jessica Kempner ’14, one of the student curators of the “Odd Volumes” exhibit, said that the objects in these two shows ask viewers to reexamine the way in which they typically perceive “the book.”
“We usually see the book as something that delivers knowledge, and so to see what these artists have done — often something that destroys these books [as devices for delivering knowledge] — is a new experience for people,” Kempner said.
Kempner was joined by Sinclaire Marber ’15, Elizabeth Mattison ’14, Colleen McDermott ’15, Andrew Hawkes ART ’15 and Ashley James GRD ’17 in curating the YUAG exhibition. “Odd Volumes” draws upon a group of experimental works — roughly 105 objects in total — that Chasanoff, who graduated from Yale in 1961, collected over a period of several decades.
Mattison said the pieces in the collection are connected by their common exploration of how book artists respond to the pressures print books face as a result of the growing pervasiveness of digital technology.
Dating from the 1960s to the present, many of the featured pieces approach the book as a sculptural medium, Marber noted. James added that she thinks a number of the objects display an interest in the “actual architectural structure” of the book.
“Distinguishing themselves from ‘artists’ books,’ which are fine artworks that don’t necessarily question the structure of the book form itself, ‘book art’ seeks to be a little more elemental in its interrogation of the book as object,” she explained.
James described one of the objects — artist Adele Outteridge’s plexiglass piece “Vessels” — as a “fan favorite” for its visual appeal, and highlighted four additional works by influential book artist Doug Beube, who collaborated with Chasanoff during the process of assembling his collection.
“CT (un)Bound,” the YUAG show’s companion exhibition at Artspace, includes around 30 Chasanoff objects. The exhibition will be the first time a part of the YUAG’s collection will be featured at the 50 Orange St. gallery, Marber said. The loaned Chasanoff collection works are paired with eight new commissions specially conceived and produced for “CT (un)Bound.” The commissions were selected out of over 30 “Open Call” submissions by Martha Lewis ART ’93, the exhibition’s curator, along with Jae Rossman, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library assistant director for Special Collections, and Kerri Sancomb, Artspace Visual Arts Committee member.
Lewis noted that although the Artspace commissions embrace a similarly liberal definition of what can be identified as a “book,” she thinks the exhibition has a “distinctly different flavor” from “Odd Volumes.”
“They had local artists respond to the [Chasanoff] works, so it makes the show a more community-based and reciprocal process,” added James, one of the curators who worked on “Odd Volumes.”
Lewis explained that the history of Connecticut’s manufacturing industry — and its aftermath — is a theme to which many of the works in “CT (un)Bound” respond. One such work is “River,” an accordion-fold book by artist Marion Belanger MFA ’90 that features photographic images of Connecticut’s Naugatuck River printed on rice paper. Belanger explained that the Naugatuck — the only major river that both begins and ends in Connecticut — was once one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. Her submission, she continued, traces the entire length of the river, which was formerly a site of manufacturing and chemical waste dumping for products from Keds to Agent Orange.
Curators from both “Odd Volumes” and “CT (un)Bound” said the exhibitions have interactive, community-based components. At Artspace, a designated family-friendly area will welcome visitors with educational programming that includes workshops for art teachers conducted by some of the commissioned artists. “Odd Volumes” will feature a table at which visitors can interact with the exhibition’s catalogue as well as with several pieces of book art.
“Because of the nature of the work, everything is on the smaller side, and it is very visually stimulating,” Kempner said. “It requires its viewers to spend a little more time than they’re perhaps used to with a work of art.”
A third book-focused arts show, “Beyond the Codex: Sculptural Book Objects from the Arts of the Book Collection,” opened at the Haas Family Arts Library in September and will close in January.