By LEIGH WILLIAMS
Few of us look at a book as anything more than a source of scholarly torment or a leisurely hobby. The Ridderhof Martin exhibition, “The Art of the Book,” explores how the very structure of the medium carries with it its own possibilities of interpretation and, for those with curious minds, opens up fantastical outlets for manipulation.
Second time was a charm for the opening of the exhibition, as students, faculty, administration and local community members alike braved the inclement weather to share in the artistic splendor it had to offer.
The original opening date, Jan. 17, had been canceled due to a threat of snow. Ironically, the postponed opening went on in spite of the fresh layer of white powder that blanketed campus. Situated at the entrance of the gallery, tables of delicious hors d’oeuvres greeted visitors and helped take off the edge of the chilly weather.
While the works were from a variety of artists, they all challenged the idea of what a book should be.
“Today, book art varies greatly in both form and content, existing in two major categories of activity: the creation of new book forms and structures, as well as the manipulation of existing books,” said Anne Timpano, director of University of Mary Washington Galleries, in her curatorial statement.
The exhibition presented books manipulated in a variety of mediums, including photography, sculpture, and composite works. Each of the artists featured in the gallery approached the idea of a book in their own unique manner.
The works of artist Brain Dettmer proved to be particularly thought-provoking for gallery-goers.
“By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge,” said Dettmer in his artist statement.
This proved to be true, with many of his works, such as “Grolier,” a stack of ten dark brown books that’s pages had been hollowed out. While the shell of the book remained intact, the meat of it was no longer present, perhaps hinting at the erosion of tangible information.
Another one of Dettmer’s works, “Modern Painters,” proved to be enjoyable for senior studio art major, Margot Storch.
“I love the depth and all the layers and how he went in and specifically picked out what to balance in the work,” Storch said.
Composed of a book with its pages strategically and carefully cut into, the piece ultimately reveals a totally new intricate representation of an ordinary object. A variety of other works proved to be equally impressive.
Artist Julie Chen’s work focused on the experience that the viewer has with the object, and how that experience changes in the duration of their interaction. We’ve all played a game around a coffee table, and her work, “Personal Paradigms,” exemplifies this experience with a box with drawers containing many small pieces and a matching game board. The set seems like a child’s dream, with its high level of detail, pleasing marigold color and unobtrusive small game pieces.
While these are only two of the artists featured in the gallery, the rest of the exhibition holds many other interesting works. Full of visual delights, “The Art of the Book” challenges common conceptions of a book, and reinvents the medium with the relevance of art.