Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California
The Craft & Folk Art Museum
Review by Amy Kaeser
Through May 7th
Currently on view at The Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) is Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California. The contextual themes that this exhibition explores: conceptual art; feminism; process and technology; and community and collaboration, expanding upon the surrounding Los Angeles urban landscape from the 1960s to the present. CAFAM’s presence on the historic Wilshire Boulevard’s “Miracle Mile,” a neighbor to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the La Brea Tar Pits, highlights alternative practices and artists that often do not make it into the larger art institutions. The exhibition Chapters: Book Art in Southern California showcases the diverse and innovative craft of book art from an array of creative makers and artists.
Considered a leisure activity by twentieth-century theorist Pierre Bourdieu, reading is a pleasure many have little time for or interest in, social media has taken the place of a good thriller or one of the classics. Chapters situate book arts from over 100 artists working from the 1960s to present as alternative spaces which complement their studio practices. Book-based forms developed as a way to reach a larger general population along with mail art and Fluxus, a non-conformist group of artists interested in making art accessible to all. By the 1960s and conceptualism, book-art lent itself perfectly to the new and innovative thinking of artist like Ed Ruscha, Barbara T. Smith, and John Baldessari, early adopters of the form. Books, both mass-produced and unique, zines, journals, leaflets, sculptural and altered editions, and artist driven publications reflect the idea of the book or text as more than the leisure activity of Bourdieu’s definition, but as a powerful tool to communicate with aesthetic form and functional object.
Chapters’ four thematic areas serve to organize the show into digestible sections. Moving through the second-floor space some works are displayed behind the typical plexiglass display case and some, in rare form for a museum, are presented to be touched and have their pages turned (white gloves are provided). As with any show that covers several decades and deals with multiple artists and art practices, the desire to showcase each with its deserved consideration and effect is evident albeit overabundant. A few works stand out: Kitty Maryatt’s Duchampian Gap (2002), Charlene Matthews’ Ulysses Project (2011-13), and Cheri Gaulke’s Inside My Closet (1989) and Impediment (1991).
Mathews’ Ulysses Project reconsiders the form of the book altogether. Twenty-five wooden poles with Matthews’ handwritten translation of James Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses, encircling the poles surface, sixty-four pages from the original book for each pole. Taking two years to complete, Matthews’ meditation on materials, both physical like the wooden pole, and the metaphoric, like sharing space with the author himself by rewriting his words as art, work to push the boundaries of what Southern California book arts are and can be. Cheri Gaulke’s Inside My Closet and Impediment further the dialogue of feminist art and feminist issues surrounding the LBGTQ community, lesbian and gay rights, the environment, and violence towards women. Kitty Maryatt’s Duchampian Gap is more sculptural than functional as the artist inverts the binding of the large text to fan outwards creating an elegant arch that spans two plinths. Maryatt’s background as former director of Scripps College Press in Claremont connects her exploration of alternative binding techniques to her extensive knowledge of the intricate process of binding book pages.
Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California runs through May 7th, 2017.
5814 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Admission: FREE every Sunday
Regularly: $7 for adults; $5 for students, teachers, and seniors; free for CAFAM members Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; closed Mondays. Every first Thursday of the month, extended hours 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.