Review: The book is only the starting point in “Book as Art” at Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur

Karen Hardy: Undertow, handmade paper, copper
Karen Hardy: Undertow, handmade paper, copper
Macey Ley: The Belt of Orion’s Never Wife, acrylic and linen thread.
Macey Ley: The Belt of Orion’s Never Wife, acrylic and linen thread.

The Book as Art 3.0: No Jacket Required, a juried exhibition of narrative and sculptural renditions by 32 artists from 21 states, visually explores the many meanings of the book. On view through September 18 at The Gallery at the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur, the show considers the book as both physical object and as metaphor.

There all almost as many iterations as there are artists, but conceptual won the day. The Belt of Orion’s Never Wife by Atlantan Macey Ley, an intricate and airy sculpture made of acrylic and linen thread and the least book-like among the entries, was awarded top honors. As beautifully executed as it is though, beyond imagining the flared acrylic panels as pages, its relation to the book seemed barely perceptible.

Ania Gilmore represents the book as a message in a bottle with Pomiedzy (in between), a concatenation of little glass vials, each filled with coils of waxed and inked paper and strewn across the surface of a glass vitrine. In her statement, the Massachusetts artist references Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, Christopher Columbus, a “ying and yang wave” and Plato’s “concept of the magnificent infinitive world ideas against material world things…”

Like I said, conceptual.

Many artists combine the metaphorical with the literal. Non-Resident Alien for Tax Purposes from Danielle McCoy of Atlanta, resembles an official document designed to suggest the artist’s feelings as a “disposable import.” Asheville artist Karen Hardy presents Undertow, a beautiful book made from pages of handmade paper bound, azure-colored, against copper covers cut out to reveal the book’s interior.

Maryland artist Shireen Holman created The Artist at Home from woodcut images of her home sandwiched between wooden covers designed to look like a home’s façade.

Arlene Tribbia: The Ten Thousand Loves
Arlene Tribbia: The Ten Thousand Loves

Among those who hew closer to the physical form of the book are John Deamond’s exacting A Field Guide to the Extinct and Extirpated Birds of North America, in perfect mimesis to a typical field guide, and Arlene Tribbia’s The Ten Thousand Loves. Tribbia’s replicates the pages of an unbound typescript bolted to the wall, leaving to viewer to imagine the feel of its heft and its contents.

The Book as Art is an interesting and wildly varied show of beautiful, inventive, carefully wrought, humorous and thoughtful work. That the sum of the exhibition definitely falls short of the individual components is largely due to its installation.

The exhibition space feels more corporate vestibule than art gallery. Perhaps that couldn’t be helped, but given those limitations, I wish the organizers had selected fewer pieces. They are crowded cheek by jowl — some small shelves hold as many as five works — and wall text and labeling are hard to discern. This is a disservice to artists whose delicate and intricate works need space to breathe.

Karen Hardy: Undertow, handmade paper, copper
Karen Hardy: Undertow, handmade paper, copper

It is not unexpected for a gallery experience to be limited to visual exploration, but the metastatic presence of Please do not touch reprimands in a show about books is problematic. Though many, especially the more conceptual ones, can be successfully comprehended visually, The Book as Art also includes books that were designed to be read or experienced. Something critical is lost in having to learn what that is by reading the wall text about it — a CliffsNotes version of the real thing that gives the viewer no choice but to merely judge a book by its cover.

Opening reception 6-9 p.m., September 3.

The exhibition is the joint effort of the Decatur Arts Alliance and the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur. Juried by Margot Ecke of Athens, Georgia, Arlyn Ende of Tennessee and Jeff Rathermel of Minnesota, it is the third such exhibit, conceived as a visual component to next weekend’s AJC Decatur Book Festival.

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