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Textual Image: Visual Text – Artists’ Books from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts


In The Century of Artists’ Books, art historian and artist Johanna Drucker argues that artists’ books are the quintessential 20th century art form par excellence. Drucker points out that artists’ books came of age after 1945 when these gained their own practitioners, theorists, critics, innovators and visionaries, and that they did not exist in their current form before the 20th century. Artists’ Books, or books conceived and produced by artists and not commissioned by a publisher, are currently the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts’ William Morris Hunt Memorial Library.

Curated by Hilary Binda, a professor in the Department of Visual and Critical Studies at Tufts University and Chantal Zakari, artist and School of the Museum of Fine Arts faculty member, Textual Image: Visual Text has its roots in the creative writing course of the same name offered at Tufts and in the Text & Image arts courses offered at SMFA. The eighteen works collected here were all produced between 2007-2011 and were all final projects of the "Textual Image: Visual Text" course and the "Publish" course taught by Zakari at SMFA. All the books were printed using print-on-demand technology and are directly linked for purchase on the exhibition’s website.

Among the many artists’ books scattered throughout the William Morris Hunt Memorial Library is Elçin Marasli’s Apricot’s Before the Sky, a book that successfully combines text, typography, photography, graphic design in a way that recalls works of "the new vision," including the photography of László Moholy-Nagy.

In her book, Drucker notes that most artists’ books take on a self-conscious view about the structure and meaning of the book as a form, and this is exactly how Avery Bazemore approaches it in An Obsessive's Guide to Bookbinding. With an ironic tone, Bazemore embarks on the self-humiliating adventure known as the decision-making process of making a book. Here, we see all the steps involved, from selecting a type to choosing the width of a column. Bazemore’s ‘how-to’ book recalls Michael Goodman’s How to Make Your Own Cheap Inexpensive Artists' Book (1990) in that both offer a meta-critical view on the process of making a generic artists’ book.

Elizabeth Noftle That’s Mine looks at other people’s life through photographs of their objects. Noftle credits the photographs and the accompanying anecdotes to their respective owners, making this work an anthology of other people’s miscellany. I couldn’t help but think of those of us who share the things we love on social media on a daily basis (myself included with my ever-expanding folder of sneaker photos on facebook). "I became curious about what other people value. Do others have strange little keepers of memories that they would never give up in a million years?" Noftle writes in her artist statement. "I began with a simple search of ‘prized possessions’ on the internet and quickly realized that hundreds of people were sharing photographs of their favorite ‘things.’ In the age of non-stop social media (over) sharing, Noftle’s book is a reminder that we’re all voyeurs seeking some validation through the lives of others.

The smaller books (4.25 x 6.8 in) including Rebecca Volynsky’s Light Hunting, Kate Kincaid’s The Jungle and Ghost by Kelly McDermott are particularly wonderful and are deserving of your attention.

None of the books in this exhibit fall within the categories of ‘book sculpture’ or ‘book-like objects,’ two emerging-areas institutions such as the Boston Atheneum have begun to embrace. In this exhibit, the book is an art work in its totality, integrating writing, layout design, typography, size, format, illustration and photography into a work that’s accessible and affordable for all.

Textual Image: Visual Text is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts' William Morris Hunt Memorial Library through April 19, 2013 and includes works by Avery Bazemore, Rachel Bernardini, Haley A. Bishop, Paul Butler, Heisue Chung, Crystal Fenner, Geoffrey Hewer-Candee, Kristen Hoops, Ximena Izquierdo, Kate Kincaid, Sarah Kroll, Phyllis Labanowski, Elçin Marasli, Kelly McDermott, Elizabeth Noftle, Jessica Thistlewaite, Rebecca Volynsky and Ben Wu.

About Author

Anulfo AKA The Evolving Critic is a preservationist and blogger with a strong interest in architectural history, urbanism, and the parallels between fashion and architecture. He holds degrees in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of New Hampshire and in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University. Anulfo has written for the Boston Society of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He oversaw BR&S's blog, Our Daily Red, from 2012-14.

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