Richard Artschwager.
Book. 1987. Multiple of formica and wood. object: 5 1/8 x 20 1/8 x 12 1/16" (13 x 51.1 x 30.7 cm).

A tremendous amount of thought/energy/force/potential goes into the production of books. An activated book is like a channel through which that force passes, and that force builds, becomes more productive, with every reader that it lodges in, passes through. If a book cannot be read, then its energy, its potential, expires in its pages.


Last week a call went out to various book artists inviting them to submit work to an open call (non-juried) gallery show. One of the lines describing what they wanted for the show and how it would work caught my eye—it said, essentially, that all work in the show was going to be available to be handled, and that artists should take that fact into consideration when submitting. A day or two later a second email went out, noting that due to a large amount of complaints about that policy, they were now giving artists the option to choose whether their work should be handled.

A few years ago I decided that whenever I show NewLights Press books, that they would be shown so that they can be handled. Even the unique books. Even the really fragile, really labor-intensive, really expensive, unique books. I would rather have them completely destroyed through use than preserved, untouched and unread, in a perpetual, pristine, vulgar state of undeath in a glass case or in a vault somewhere.

Many years ago I saw a lecture by the artist Richard Artschwager. During that lecture he stated one of his guiding principles: “painting is art that you look at like this:” (mimes standing in place and staring) and “sculpture is art that you look at like this:” (mimes walking around and looking at an object). Neither of those mimes, of those modes of looking/reading, works for books. Books are different from other forms of art because they function differently in the world.

I understand why the gallery went back on their initial impulse to have all the work available for perusal, and I don’t fault them for giving the artists the option to choose how their work is shown. But I do wish they held that line as a curatorial principle.

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