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This article by F.R. Rivera was prepared for the February 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Art Review: `Altered Books’
The world of altered books occupies a small but meaningful
niche in the work that artists do. Whether as inspiration or raw material,
books present a point of departure. Apart from illustrating, designing,
or hand printing a book, to alter a book is to re-create it. When
one re-creates anything one runs the risk of destroying its integrity.
On the other hand, given the number of books on the planet in this
post-Gutenberg 21st century, alteration can also offer the opportunity
to rescue them from the trash bin of neglect.
Altering is what artists do much of the time, as a fundamental part
of creating art. The components of found sculpture — a rusty bicycle
seat, for example — shed their functionality when combined with
other found objects.
Max Ernst, who emerged from the literary culture of Dada and Surrealism,
is one example of an artist who was inspired by books. He gave new
life to 19th-century engravings in his mother of all graphic novels
"Une Semaine de Bonte" ("A Week of Goodness"). His
scripting of images was wildly surrealistic, but he remained loyal
to the sequential nature of a book.
"Altered Books: Spine Chilling Thrillers," a group show featuring
works by 14 artists, selected by guest curator Karen McDermott, opened
at the Gallery at Rider University on February 6. It can be seen there
through Thursday, March 6. With three notable exceptions, the Ernst
approach is absent from this show. The exceptions are "Flash Back,
Flash Forward, An Interrupted Reading" by Sandra Jackman, and
two pieces by Kerrie Carbary, "The Wallbook" and "The
Field Book of Common Rocks and Minerals." They emphatically urge
the viewer to handle them (protective gloves are provided) and even
to read them in the manner of a conventional book.
Other objects resembling books, although physically
open, feel closed and remote. Such a piece is "Bookstone"
by Pamela Paulsrud, which is like a fossil, a mere shell of its former
life. A similar response is evoked by the work of Maria G. Pisano,
Harriet Bart, and Beth Cote. These objects may move us, but they are
only tangentially related to the normal world of books, which are
read and read sequentially.
Most of these altered books cannot be read. There is, for example,
the work of Sarah Stengle of Trenton, who assures the inaccessibility
of her altered book, "Scarlet Revision," by cloistering it
inside a glass-sealed box. A thicket of discarded crutches by Maria
Anasazi, entitled "Still Standing," like many other pieces
in this show of installation art, is so idiosyncratically removed
from books that it begs our indulgence.
A real hand saw, a hammer atop two plump pillows, and a wall-mounted
baseball catcher’s chest guard by Byron Clercx offer only a scant
trace of text barely visible on the wooden hand grips of the saw and
the hammer. Pleasantly anarchic, Duchampian, yes, but no altered book.
Miriam Schaer of Brooklyn writes in her catalog statement that "the
processes of bookbinding and surgery have much in common: cutting
and sewing to make something whole." This is a perfectly good
statement that has nothing to do with her work. In a piece entitled
"Body of Knowledge," Schaer uses lots of paper, much of it
wadded inside of clear plastic figures, male and female. How this
piece is an altered book is anyone’s guess. Without judging this piece
or any other, one can still question the opportunism that inspired
More forthright is Doug Beube, who acknowledges that his relationship
to books ends at the point where he recycles the paper they were printed
on. What may have begun as 50 pulp fictions or 12 phone directories,
are reborn as paper sculptures — such as nascent buds that explode
into extravagant bouquets from the wall, or a serpentine GI tract
that coils on the floor.
To Make or Remake?
There is a lot of good work in this show, but it seems far removed
from the romance evoked by guest curator Karen McDermott when she
writes about finding a small, 1960 day-book belonging to her mother
which contained bits of "paper, pictures, and cartoons" not
unlike a time capsule. We are not surprised that when she opened it
her "heart skipped a beat." An old book affects us a little
like a Codex; it is intoxicating for the person who discovers it.
The artists who come closest to capturing a comparable feeling of
nostalgia or romance demonstrate respect for the architecture of the
book, while adding a secret compartment. These artists include Carbary,
Cote, Penny Dimos, and Liz Mitchell. Their work underscores the fact
that between two covers lies concealed treasure. They augment the
role of the book, while at the same time personalizing it, not unlike
Max Ernst in "A Week of Goodness."
In Mitchell’s "Self-Contained," for example, which could be
the artist’s journal, a coil nestles snugly into a niche that has
been sealed and secured by four screws. What is this coil? Why
is it so protected? Does the hand-written note on the opposite page
offer a clue?
In another piece, by Dimos, the web contained in the pages of an actual
book is tantalizing and enigmatic. Dimos has created the most powerful
piece in the show. It resonates in memory long after one has seen
it. In remaking her book, Dimos catapults us into her very special
world of emotionally-charged issues, where superstition and religion
both exist. She gives us the intensity of Frazer’s "Golden Bough"
without turning a single page.
In her catalog statement, Dimos writes of being taken by the myth
of Arachne who continuously wove spider webs to avoid human death.
To deal with issues of such magnitude requires a big important book.
She has chosen the Bible, open to the psalms. A second piece in the
"Bible/Webs" series is no less impressive.
Dimos is from Toronto. The other artists in the exhibition, including
three from New Jersey — Pisano, Mitchell, and Stengle — are
from locations across the country. The show is beautifully installed
and is accompanied by a handsome color catalog.
— F.R. Rivera
Art Gallery , Student Center, 2085 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville,
609-895-5589. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.
to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Show runs to March 6.
In My Mind," an exhibition of photography by Barbara Bickford.
Educated at London’s Slade School of Art, Bickford’s images of China,
Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Cambodia reflect her fascination
with those countries and their culture. Show runs to March 7.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "From Tow Path to Bike Path: Princeton
and the Delaware and Raritan Canal," an exhibition on the history
and creation of the canal, the life of death of its workers, and recent
environmental and preservation issues. Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon
to 4 p.m.; through March.
Traditional and contemporary Chinese paintings by Seow-Chu See. A
member of the Garden State Watercolor Society, her work has been shown
in group and solo exhibits throughout the area. To March 19.
A show of exuberant oils by the Russian-born artist who paints under
the name YomTov. The artist, who has made Israel his home since 1994,
is inspired by Jewish themes. His works include expressionistic, spiritual
interpretations of biblical figures and events. Part of sales benefits
the center. Gallery is open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
Friday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To March 16.
"Brotherly Love, Art from the African Diaspora" featuring
paintings by Rhinold Lamar Ponder and Keith Goffe. Also works by artists
from Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica, and Guyana. Open Fridays and Saturdays,
1 to 6 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. To March 15.
Photographs of Ed Ranney: The John B. Elliott Collection," an
overview of the artist’s career from 1970 and 1999. First recognized
for his photographic studies of Mayan stonework in the 1970s, Ranney
began an ongoing collaboration with the artist Charles Ross in 1979,
documenting the evolution of Ross’s earthwork sculpture "Star
Axis," a monumental naked-eye celestial observatory being carved
into a cliff face in eastern New Mexico. Ranney will give a lecture
on "Space and Place" Wednesday, April 9, at 4:30 p.m. in McCormick
106. Show runs to June 7.
Also "Seeing the Unseen: Abstract Photography, 1900 to 1940,"
to March 23. "The Arts of Asia: Works in the Permanent Collection"
to June 30. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday
1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m.
609-258-3184. "Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders, and Book
Designers," a Milberg Gallery exhibition curated by Rebecca Warren
Davidson. To March 30.
School, 609-258-1651. "Africa’s Lunatics," works by French
photographer Vincent Fougere that depict how Africa cares for and
treats its mentally ill. After a childhood spent in Ivory Coast, Fougere
spent eight years traveling across Africa to photograph its bruised
souls. Gallery open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 21.
609-620-6026. In the Hutchins Gallery, "Crossing Borders: The
Photographs of Barbara Beirne," 21 black-and-white photographs
of first and second- generation American the high school students.
Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon; and 1 to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday
and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. To March 4.
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Fabrications," an exhibition
of textiles by fabric artist Carol Sara Schepps, a graduate of the
Pratt Institute of Technology in New York. Open Monday to Saturday,
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 8 p.m. To March 14.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "George Segal: Sculpture, Paintings,
and Drawings from the Artist’s Studio;" to May 26. Also: "June
Wayne: Selected Graphics, 1950 to 2000;" to June 29. Open Tuesday
through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to
5 p.m. Tours every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under
18 free; and free on the first Sunday of every month.
"The Sum of Its Parts," an exhibition of paintings, assemblage,
kinetic, and static sculpture by Joanna Platt. Opening reception Saturday,
February 15, 5 to 7 p.m. Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To March 6.
supervisor of the pattern development department of the Johnson Atelier.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Museum, new work by glass
artist Dale Chihuly, to April 6. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.
to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission is $4
Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10 Sunday.
Individual memberships start at $55.
609-695-0061. Ritch Gaiti, "Returning to the Spirits, A Painted
Journey of the West." A self-taught painter, Gaiti spent 26 ears
in the corporate world and retired from his first career as the first
vice president and senior director of advanced technology at Merrill
Lynch. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To April 26.
Building 4, third floor, Lawrenceville, 609-896-0732. Solo show
of paintings and sculptures by Mexican artist Rony Chubich. Gallery
is open by appointment, Wednesday to Saturday, 1:30 to 6 p.m. To April
Created by area neurosurgoen Ariel Abud and his family, the Abud Foundation
promotes the contemporary arts of Spain, Latin America, and Central
America. It awards stipends to artists, with an invitation to travel
to the U.S. and exhibit their work in the small Lawrenceville gallery.
Shared show featuring "Water in Motion" by Jay Goodkind and
"Without Tools He is Nothing," new works by Robert Borsuk.
Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
To March 16.
609-252-0020. Exhibition of Japanese paper dolls, or washiningyo
handmade by Jill Nielsen. Also on view, Japanese woodblock prints,
both antique and modern. Show runs to March 14.
Nielsen lived in Japan for eight years and studied with master doll
maker Nishizawa Yasuomu for three years. Her dolls are 10-inch-tall,
three-dimensional sculptures made of Japanese paper, cotton, and wire.
New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "From the Old World to the New World,"
recent additions to the collection featuring works by nine Hungarian
Americans who emigrated to the U.S. between 1920 and 1957. Artists
are Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bertha and Elena DeHellenbranth, Sandor Sugor,
Emil Kelemen, Willy Pogany, Tibor Gergely, Zoltan Poharnok, and Vincent
Korda. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. Through April.
732-745-4177. "Uncommon Clay: New Jersey’s Architectural Terra
Cotta Industry," an exhibition of artifacts and written and oral
histories of New Jersey’s once booming architectural ceramics industry.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
To May 30.
908-735-8415. "2003 Annual Members Exhibition," juror Rocio
Aranda-Alvarado of Jersey City Museum. "Drawings by John Patterson:
Process, Reveries, and Accumulations." Open Tuesday to Sunday,
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March 8.
609-292-6464. "Cultures in Competition: Indians and Europeans
in Colonial New Jersey," a show that traces the impact of European
settlement on the native Indians’ way of life after 1600. On extended
view: "Art by African-Americans: A Selection from the Collection;"
"New Jersey’s Native Americans: The Archaeological Record;"
"Delaware Indians of New Jersey;" "The Sisler Collection
of North American Mammals;" "Of Rock and Fire;" "Neptune’s
Architects;" "The Modernists;" "New Jersey Ceramics,
Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical Archaeology of Colonial
New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing the Delaware."
215-340-9800. "Randall Exon: A Quiet Light," a solo show by
the Philadelphia-area painter and Swarthmore College professor; to
April 27. "A Home of Our Own," a show that commemorates Levittown’s
50th anniversary featuring the contemporary photographs of Jean Klatchko
and vintage objects from the State Museum; to April 13. Winter hours:
Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Admission $6 adults; $3 students and children.
609-252-6275. "Hidden Threads," a show featuring six New Jersey
textile artists, each working with the medium in a different way.
Soyoo Park Caltabiano, Nancy Staub Laughlin, Patricia Malarcher, Joy
Saville, Armando Sosa, and Erma Martin Yost are featured. Open Monday
to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To
Painter and sculptor Edward M. Adams’ new gallery space. A widely
exhibited artist, Adams is also a licensed psychologist with a private
practice in Somerville. Winter gallery hours Friday, Saturday, and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
"Creatures," a theme art show to benefit the Hunterdon County
SPCA animal shelter. Featured artists include Robert Beck, Anne Cooper
Dobbins, Lisa Mahan, Kim Robertson, Barry Snyder, and Stacie Speer-Scott.
Gallery is open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 31.
Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0804. Lambertville Historical Society’s
23d annual juried art exhibition, "Lambertville and the Surrounding
Area." Juror is Mel Leipzig. The show’s eight award-winning artists
are Tom Birkner, W. Carl Burger, Vincent Ceglia, Marge Chavooshian,
Alexander Farnham, Bryan Fisher, Robert Sakson, and Luiz Vilela. Gallery
hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To March 16.
908-996-1470. "Too Soon for Spring?" show features flower-theme
works by 20 gallery artists including W. Carl Burger, Christina Debarry,
and Charles Nelson. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To March
auditions for "Small Craft Warnings" by Tennessee Williams,
directed by Jonathan Wierzbicki, on Sunday, March 2, and Tuesday March
4, at 7 p.m. Cast calls for two women and six men. Call 732-873-2710
or visit www.villagerstheatre.com
its 15th edition of "Under Age," an anthology of poetry,
and artwork by students under 18. Students are encouraged to submit
their most creative works of literature and artwork. Submissions in
both English and Spanish will be accepted. Illustrations must be in
black and white, and no larger than 8.5 x 12 inches. Deadline for
submissions is Friday, March 14. Call the Arts Council at
for county and state-wide grants to public benefit organizations. Up
to $500,000 is available through Greater Mercer Grants for programs
that serve girls and the women who raise them, HIV/AIDS education and
prevention through the New Jersey AIDS Partnership, and programs that
support Mercer County and its neighboring communities. For
information, call 609-688-0342 or visit www.pacf.org.
the public to join a day trip to view "Degas and the Dance,"
an exhibition of works by the celebrated Edgar Degas at the
Art Museum on Thursday, March 6, from 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The show
draws on public and private collections in a dozen countries,
including work from the Princeton University Art Museum. After lunch
at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia, the Friends will visit the Rodin
Museum which includes some of the artist’s greatest works, including
"The Thinker," "The Burghers of Calais," and "The
Gates of Hell." Cost of the trip is $105 for non-members. For
information and reservations call Eir Danielson of the Friends,
and Music Center takes place March 7 to 9. Registration of $255
includes Friday and Saturday night accommodations, workshops, meals,
snacks, parties, and printed materials. Call 856-825-6800 or visit
House for weddings, retreats, and other social events. Call Alison
Roth at 609-895-1728.
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