Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Lights Beyond the Eye of the Beholder
Sacred Beauty The Beauty of Sanctity Vanishing Point
Camera Sacra Home Page In the Beginning

(The virtual exhibition tour )
Beauty and the Book is not only the Ruth Youth Wing exhibition for 2005; it is one of nine exhibitions - on the theme of "Beauty and Sanctity" - that the Israel Museum as a whole is mounting to celebrate its 40th anniversary year. The exhibition invites visitors, young people and adults alike, to be touched by the beauty of books, as it opens a window onto the magic and the pleasure they contain. A significantpartofthe books and artworks on display are from the Museum's own finecollections,likeartists'books(works of art in their own right) by painters, sculptors, photographers, environmental artists, and media artists; antiquarian books; and representations of books in the visual arts. And this is a wonderful opportunity to bring out the Youth Wing's own treasures, such as rare children's books, books of unusual shape, miniature books, and pop-up books.

Books are the basis of our cultural heritage. Some may influence our world view or even shape our lives. Many of our childhood memories have to do with the books that we read or that were read to us. We identify those who are like us, and understand their inner world, by the books they read. We approach a book as we approach a work of art or a meeting with a new acquaintance, bringing with us our knowledge and experience, and during the encounter - in the course of reading - an intimate relationship is formed between ourselves and the book. The words stimulate our senses and engage our emotions. We see in our mind's eye the characters and places described. We hear their sounds and smell their scents - but we smell the paper, too, and stroke the pages and the covers, and some readers even "taste" the book by moistening their finger to turn the pages.

Beauty and the Book focuses on the visual aspects of books, and suggests reading them as one "reads" a work of art. Like art, books are a mixture of matter and spirit, manual labor, thought, and creativity. They have shape, color, dimensions, substance, and other qualities, and the concept of beauty emerges from the different combinations and interactions of all these qualities. Here is a dictionary definitionof "beauty": "A combination of qualities, as shape, proportion, color . . . that delights the sight; combined qualities that delight the other senses, the moral sense or the intellect." On the other hand, it is said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - that is to say, relative, dependent on culture, environment, fashion, time period, and, most of all, personal taste. In a word: subjective. These definitionsareillustrated in a wealth of forms in this exhibition. What the books on display have in common is just the opposite of the expression "don't judge a book by its cover"! It is precisely the cover, the binding, the kind and size of paper, the form of the book, and the images within it that are the focus of this exhibition.

Aime-Jules Dalou, French, 1838-1902
Woman Reading, 1874
Terra-cotta, 55.5x28x38 cm
Bequest of Johanna and Ludovic Lawrence,
in memory of Elisheva Cohen

Five thousand years ago, the ancients already attached great importance to the form and substance of the tablets, the plaques, and the papyrus scrolls on which they wrote. They paid special attention to the aesthetics of these "books" and to the beauty of the pictures and decorations that embellished them. A couple of centuries before the Common Era, scribes began to write on scrolls of parchment, made from animal skin. From the second century CE, however, the scroll was gradually abandoned, and replaced by pages of parchment or wood, bound in book form. This was known as a "codex," from the Latin for a wooden stump, because of the wooden covers in which the books were bound.

Bartolomeo Schidone, Italian, ca.1570-1615
The First Prayer Book
Oil on wood, 61.7x42.7 cm
Gift of Dr. Joseph and Hedy Oren, Jerusalem

The European tradition of printed books began with the invention of the printing press, traditionally attributed to Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, in Germany. He used movable type molded in lead, impressed on paper with a hand-roller. His copy of the Bible, published in 1455, met with great success. The firstbooksprinted in Europe by this method looked much like manuscripts, and were later referred to as "incunabula," literally "in the cradle," i.e., in their infancy.

At the entrance to the exhibition are a number of very old books sacred to the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. One of the most beautiful and unusual among them is the Birds' Head Haggadah (containing the liturgical text of the Passover ceremonial meal), from Southern Germany, ca. 1300. Handwritten on parchment, it is one of the oldest illustrated haggadot still extant, and takes its name from the birds' heads with which the artist endowed the human figures in the book.

Another interesting exhibit is a Christian prayer book (ca. 1570) called "The Book of Hours." It was a true bestseller in its day, with more copies made of it than of the Bible. The particular volume in the exhibition, on display here for the first time,was handwritten on parchment and decorated with splendid illustrations. In the Middle Ages it was a popular gift for devout Christians, especially for women of the upper classes, where it was regarded as a status symbol.

A central part of the exhibition is devoted to a special genre known as "artists' books," which firstmadetheirappearanceinthelatenineteenth century and are still popular today. More art than literature, they are found in myriad forms, created by painters, designers, illustrators, and engravers. Unlike "art books," which are made up of reproductions of existing artworks, artists' books are original works in their own right, characterized by conceptual integrity and sequences that possess their own artistic value.

Artists' books can be divided into three categories, according to the degree of the artist's involvement. The first category, known simply as livre d'artiste (artist's book), made its appearance in the 1890s. In general, these books were the initiative of imaginative publishers, who would introduce artists to a well-known poet or writer, or a classical masterpiece, and ask them to illustrate the text or give it a visual interpretation. The contribution of the artist to such books was as important as the literary work itself, and went beyond mere mediation between reader and text. Such books were produced in magnificent, large-format limited editions, with the use of special printing and expensive materials. One could call them publisher-artists' books: the publisher regarded them as a product, and the artist could experiment with print as a new medium. The current exhibition includes examples of such collaboration, in books created by Delacroix, Picasso, Matisse, Ernst, and other famous artists.

The second category of artists' books developed years later. The discretion of the artist was complete. He or she created the book in all its aspects, without the interference of editors or publishers, and unrestrained by marketing and censorship considerations. By and large, these artists' books were composed of a series of pictures that told a story, as in the books of Franz Masereel, or those of Ed Ruscha.With the development of conceptual, installation, and performance art in the 1960s and 1970s, artists began to look for alternative forms and contexts to replace the traditional museums and galleries. The book served as one of those alternatives, and was adopted as an art form in its own right. Many were enchanted by its attributes as a medium of communication and dissemination of information, and as a portable object that could be taken from place to place, examined and paged through in a public library or an intimate space, purchased in a bookshop and sent through the mail.
Henri Matisse, French, 1869-1954
Print from Jazz
Editions Verve, France, 121/250, 1947
Stencil print (after the collages and cut-outs),42.5x65 cm
Gift of Stella Fischbach, New York,to American Friends of the Israel Museum

They saw books as a metaphorical bridge between themselves and far-off people and places. The fact that a book could be duplicated and reproduced was in keeping with the artistic trend of the 1960s, the era of technical reproductions.

Abelardo Morell, Cuban, born 1948
Book: Le Antica Via Romanis by Pirmesi #1, 1994
Gelatin silver print, 57.2x45.5 cm
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cohen, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum,
in memory of their son, Michael Cohen

This kind of artist's book does not always look like a book. It may be a sequence of pictures that tell a story, or a combination of text, art, and craft. Sometimes its form is unusual; sometimes the materials of which it is made are unconventional. In place of paper pages, there might be cloth pages or glass plates, aluminum sheets, photographs, video footage, computer scans - or no pages at all. Sometimes the "book" is actually a sculpture or an artistic installation.

The third, and contemporary, category of artist's book is that of "Book Objects." These are disposable objects, or objects produced in editions of ten to one hundred numbered and signed copies. An example is Julie Chen's Bon Bon Mots, in which the artist created a book made up of five miniature booklets embedded in it as in a box of chocolates. Another example is Lucas Samaras' dynamic book, created in 1968. Its ten thick pages begin with a pattern of pinhead dots in six strong colors on a white background; but as one progresses from page to page, the dots grow larger and the colors fade. By the last page they are indiscernible. And there is a surprise on every page: folded sheets of paper, a miniature booklet, an appendix of texts sealed with paper "locks," and holes through which one can peek, or into which one can insert a finger.Thegameofconcealand reveal, and the wealth of elusive images, are the signature style of Samaras' art. (The artist wrote the texts within the work as well.) Other contemporary examples of artists' books are interactive objects or environments that use state-of-the-art technological techniques and invite the viewer to operate them or become part of them.

Books are a symbol of intellectual richness and culture. Writers and poets are immortalized in photographic portraits with a book in their hand, and cultural and political leaders like to be photographed in their private libraries. Several such portraits appear in the current exhibition, alongside works of art that portray books. The terra-cotta sculpture Woman Reading, by Aime-Jules Dalou (1838-1902), depicts the act of reading itself. Naftali Rakuzin paints the books in his house as a kind of group portrait, but to a great extent, this is his self-portrait as well. The work of Abelardo Morell reveals several facets of the book. His photographs express what he feels about books and their contents - and through them, the world. His black-and-white photographs of books are in reality autobiographical, philosophical, and political art-images.

Book-lovers know that a considerable part of the experience of reading has to do with the liberation of the imagination. Holding a book in one's hand, one can soar towards unfamiliar lands, or plunge into the labyrinth of the hero's very soul. This exhibition provides interactive locations in which visitors, and especially children, can become for a while the heroes of legend. The many reading corners invite visitors to page through and get to know books old and new, and to try out a variety of settings in which to read them: in the library, at a desk, on a sofa, in bed, in the coffee shop, on the train, and out of doors.

(Exhibition web site )

Lucas Samaras, born Greece 1936, active USA
Published by Pace Edition, New York , 44/100, 1968
Silkscreen, embossing, die-cut, and offset on paper, mounted on card board,
25.5x22.5 cm

Beauty and the Book

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