(Artist) Frays Book

Cai Guo-Qiang, “Danger Book: Suicide Fireworks”, flammable and adhesive substances and gunpowder, 2008. Courtesy Ivory Press.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibition, Blood on Paper: The Art of The Book, showcases book-based work by a wealth of modern and contemporary artists, including Cai Guo-Qiang and Richard Tuttle (Season 3) and Louise Bourgeois (Season 1).

Since the book form implies a beginning, middle and end, it’s always been a popular form for artists looking to meddle with heads, from Max Ernst’s superlative The Hundred Headless Woman onwards. The exhibition traces a significant transformation in the definition of the artist’s book: from a kind of freeform improvisation on textual illustration (Matisse’s Jazz, Sol LeWitt’s take on Borges’ Ficciones) to an artwork taking the form of a book as its conceptual jumping-off point (Dieter Roth and Richard Hamilton’s Inter Faces and Richard Tuttle’s NotThePoint). The connotations of books as cornerstones of religious doctrine are underscored by Damien Hirst’s New Religion, a huge, plinth-mounted mixed-media sculpture in the form of a shelved Bible, set off by a display of Francis Bacon’s much-pored-over ephemera, battered Muybridge photos and snaggly Polaroids, displayed in glass like the fingerbones of a saint.

The most fun is to be had in the illumination artists’ work can cast on a canonical text; Balthus replays Wuthering Heights as a pas de deux of feral adolesence; Paula Rego turns Jane Eyre into a mad psychodrama of Gothic puppetry. Serialism found an easy home in the book form, with Ed Ruscha’s deadpan series of swimming pools and gas stations repeated on every page of a pocketsize book, insouciance itself. Meanwhile, the pages of Cai Guo-Qiang’s Danger Books, charred with the spidery remainders of fireworks, indicate the book as a site of explosive excitement, and anyone who’s ever been 7 will probably agree.

  1. Sb says:

    There’s also a great collection show up at MoMA through July 7 called Book/Shelf. It begins with Duchamp and shows a range of strategies contemporary artists have used to approach the book–my favorites being the faux, punny Remainders (1991) by Alan Ruppersburg and Brian Bellot’s collaboratively made Books, books, books, books, books, books, and books (2005-07).


  2. JLC says:

    Yes, love this kind of interface between literature and art. It makes us question the value of time and the way artists turn to another form of expression in order to experiment more freely and without the pressure perhaps of their primary ‘skill’.

  3. Lotto says:

    However.. I couldn’t help but feel that the physicality of the books as objects was rendered obsolete due to necessary conservation and security considerations.

    Perhaps presenting the artistic ‘process’ is difficult in the typical context of the museum or gallery, and this investigation is best left to open studio visits?

    Can we effectively recreate that ‘interface’ in the museum environment?

    just a thought

    Also- ‘Blood on Paper’; a touch melodramatic as a title?

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