Saturday, April 11, 2009



The Art of the Book
4th Annual Exhibition of Handmade & Altered Artist Books
Donna Seager Gallery, 851 4th St., San Rafael, CA 94901

April 2 - May 31
Reception for the Artists: Friday, April 10, 6 to 8pm

My poet friend Karl Kadie & his wife Carol Korsow drove me up to an art gallery in wealthy Marin County (on the north side of S.F. Bay) for the opening of an annual show of books & book-like objects, packed to the walls with people who have money to spend. Sitting on one of few chairs available, I spoke to a local who was amazed that I'd come all the way up from Santa Clara (63.7 mi.)

It was all Karl’s idea. He wanted to see a book (made in an accordion-format) containing a few burning house poems because he’s writing a series of them. One’s about the personal experience of Pico Iyer – which he’s sent to Iyer (via his publisher.)

I keep telling Karl he’s writing the hottest literary subject I know of: burning houses in a time when, due to real estate madness, house values have suddenly plummeted. People are actually burning their now unaffordable houses, or abandoning them to the bank that actually owns them. The increasingly deranged housing bubble has finally burst. Reality (as they'd imagined it) is going up in smoke.

But back to books. A range of real-, semi- & quasi-books attracted quite a crowd, proving that despite Amazon’s Kindle or Sony's eBook readers, people are enamored of paper books or objects that look like them. Why? A lifetime’s conditioning. Who hasn’t happily read at least one book in their lifetime? Thus, replicating a book has virtue, striking a deep chord in the mind, bringing people out to stark-white art-gallery on a Friday nite, where I was handed a pair of transparent plastic gloves to turn the pages of an ironical book of Aesop’s Fables that I was reading bare-handedly because I’d forgotten what I was reading was also an art-object! This is at the opposite end of the utility spectrum from buying books by the linear foot to fill a bookcase for purely decorative purposes. Yes, some visibly pretentious Americans do this to look literate, displaying books they have no intention of reading.

Books have come from being incunabula to wallpaper, but this exhibition proves some people still treasure them, or something resembling them. Books as art objets is a retro-trend. Some are real, some not. Some are fine books, some not. Some are decks of cards. All demonstrate high-, middle-, or low-bookitude. (cf. Susan Sontag’s “Notes on camp” in her AGAINST INTERPRETATION & Other essays, 1963.)

Is there any one book I personally treasure? Yes; a hardbound of Erich Maria Remarque’s ARCH OF TRIUMPH (D. Appleton Century, NYC, 1945 ) I've had a copy in the original dust-jacket, with a Book of the Month Club pamphlet in it, since my teens. Its meaning to me increases with each decade I live; it began my early existential bookitude.

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