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Reading Rainbow

Titans of Literature, Art Converge in NOMA Exhibit

Readers who like their books with lots of pictures shouldn’t miss the new NOMA exhibition, Bookmarks: The Artist's Response to Text, which focuses on the genre of livres d'artiste, or artist’s books.


These books first emerged as an artform in the late 19th century and have continued to evolve since then as a way for artists to interact directly with texts and question the notions of both art and books.


The NOMA exhibition features a number of limited edition works from the museum’s permanent collection and other works on loan from Vamp and Tramp, Booksellers, LLC, who contributed pieces that represent more recent developments in books and bookmaking. The scope of the exhibition spans decades and continents, presenting a survey of a genre defined by the medium rather than by any specific style or theme. 



Bookmarks: The Artist's Response to Text
Where New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park
When Through Nov. 28
Tickets with NOMA admission (free Wednesdays)

Of the more well-known artists and works in the exhibition, museum-goers will immediately recognize pieces from Henri Matisse’s Jazz, originally published as a suite of 20 images in 1947. The original works were cut-paper collages, which was the artist’s primary process as age and illness made it difficult for him to paint.  “Prints” were made from the originals by hand painting stencils with an emphasis on retaining the bright colors of the initial collages. Jazz was produced as an edition of 250 books, with the pages folded in half, but an even rarer edition of 100 portfolios were produced consisting of flat sheets with no center fold. The four prints on display at NOMA are from the latter edition, numbered 98/100, and include The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown, one of the post popular works from the series. The lively colors and shapes evoke the circus theme that inspired the collection, making these later pieces among the most vibrant of the artist’s life work.


The Horse, The Rider, The Clown, Henri Matisse


Jazz is an example of a livre d’artiste that basically serves as an artist portfolio, a tidy collection of similar works bound together. Other books in the exhibition feature artists responding to specific texts, some well-known, others less so.



Encased in glass is a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, illustrated by Robert Motherwell. One of New York’s earliest Abstract Expressionist painters, Motherwell was influenced by Joyce throughout his career, and his nonrepresentational paintings echo Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness prose.  This edition of Ulysses was printed in 1988 by San Francisco’s Arion Press, was limited to 150 copies, and includes 40 etchings from Motherwell. Under the protective glass, the book is opened to Episode 12, the Cyclops episode, and Motherwell’s scrawled, abstract rendering of the one-eyed monster introduces the first page of this chapter.


Cyclops, James Joyce




Another artist taking inspiration directly from an author is David Hockney, who in 1966 converted a series of pen and ink line drawings into etchings that were printed alongside poems by C.P.Cavafy. Cavafy, a Greek poet who was one of the earliest modern writers to frankly address the topic of homosexuality, garnered attention only after his death in 1933. In 2001, Hockney scholar Peter Webb wrote that “the Cavafy prints are not literal illustrations of the poems but visualizations of their nostalgia for fleeting but memorable sexual encounters.” The exhibition includes three of these prints, but Webb’s sentiment is most exemplified by In Despair, a simple drawing depicting two men stretched out together in bed, exuding a nonchalance that reflects the quiet tone of Cavafy’s poems.



In Despair, David Hockney


While the NOMA exhibition includes some spectacular pieces, viewers don’t get to appreciate any of the books as a whole. In most cases, like the Matisse and Hockney prints, the entire work is represented by only a few pieces, which seems to undermine the idea of livres d’artistes being fully realized collections. Other works, like Ulysses, are under glass and flipped open to reveal only a single illustration, which prevents museum-goers from seeing the rest of the art in the book or being able to experience the complete integration of art and text.  NOMA’s description of the exhibition states, “Instead of viewing art on a wall, by turning the page the viewer became hands on with the art, resulting in a new-found intimacy between artist and viewer.” However, the precautions required to protect the work don’t really allow this intimacy to develop.



Dawn Dedeaux's A Book of Judgements, protected version





The one exception is A Book of Judgments by Dawn Dedeaux, which features work from Orleans Parish Prison inmates that was produced during a series of prison workshops conducted by New Orleans artists.  A copy of the book is displayed in a case on the wall with a sculpture-like cover made of steel bars, but another copy rests on a shelf just below the case where viewers can don white cotton gloves and peruse the book, which contains art and essays by prisoners, often reflecting on topics like family and community.


Dawn Dedeaux's A Book of Judgements, open source version


Despite the tactile limitations, Bookmarks is a solid survey of an often overlooked genre that includes often overlooked works by some great artists. The exhibition also includes works by Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Ed Ruscha, and others. It is on view through November 28.

If only I knew about this

If only I knew about this sooner. I might have actually finished Ulysses!

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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