We tend to think of books as strictly academic, but might they occupy more than just this one domain? The exhibit “Beyond the Codex: Sculptural Book Objects in the Arts of the Book Collection” on the first floor of the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library explores this idea by displaying various forms of book art from a wide range of artists. Running until February 20, the exhibit is being held in conjunction with the student-curated book art exhibition “Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection” in the YUAG. Comprised of a long shelf and one display case, the exhibit at first can be easily overlooked, but commands attention after the first sighting. It showcases books in unique forms—ranging from an umbrella to a snow globe—and functions with the purpose of displaying trends in book arts.
With this goal of being all encompassing, the exhibit presents works that challenge traditional forms and views of books, and others that make the viewer appreciate the book’s original physical format. For example, one display entitled “Altered Books,” shows firsthand how an existing book can be converted into a new work of art. The piece consists of two works, both by artist Robert Thé. One is a spatula and the other, a gun made from books. They highlight how the book does not disappear completely from the new work of art. The display forces the viewer to think of the internal nature of the book, rather than the external. Similar to the umbrella and snow globe made out of a book, these “altered books,” make the viewer question whether the societal notion of what constitutes a book is too limiting in its definition.
On the other hand, certain displays made me appreciate the richness of the original book form. As books are ever present (for some of us, probably too present) in our lives, we don’t tend to think of the significance of their structure. While we analyze the content between their pages, we often don’t appreciate or notice their form. Certain works in the exhibition, such as those by Diether Roth, made me appreciate the original format of books. Entitled “Bok,” Roth’s two pieces on display were standard books created out of pages from a foreign newspaper, with some holes cut through pages. As the change in the form is subtle, and not so immediately apparent, the viewer is forced to view the book itself as a form of art. Personally, this made me realize how I viewed books and art as disconnected and made me question a view I didn’t know I possessed.
“Beyond the Codex” is perhaps most striking in the effect it has on the viewer rather than in its physical content. Despite its small presence and private location, the exhibit forced me to contend with notions I had never before considered. While the experience won’t impact the way I relate to books completely, it did add a new dimension to the way I’m capable of viewing them.