Turn some 'PAGES'
Art Center College of Design's 'Pages' exhibit will make you see paper in new ways
By Carl Kozlowski 11/29/2012
In a world in which iPads, Kindles and other e-readers are slowly making cardboard-and-paper books an endangered species, Pasadena’s Arts Center College of Design is here to save the day for classic literature.
Through its current exhibition “Pages,” located in the school’s prestigious Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, visitors are dazzled with a mind-bending array of ways in which paper can be used to entice the eye.
From a towering sculpture in which 53 books of all shapes and sizes are balanced precariously between the narrow tip of a car jack atop a footstool and the gallery ceiling to precisely detailed and colorful print designs embedded across antique texts, and with three-dimensional, hanging wall art formed from dried-out or glued-together paper, “Pages” will make viewers reconsider how they use paper, a fundamental, everyday tool. And while the exhibit is running through Jan. 13, the “Page-Stories II” event held at 7 p.m. tonight features storytellers sharing one-of-a-kind tales about books, art, artists and the making of the exhibition itself.
“John O’Brien, the exhibit’s curator, and I wanted to approach this not as a show of books, but make the show literally about the page,” says Stephen Nowlin, Art Center vice president in charge of the Williamson gallery. “We decided to approach the page as a means for communicating finished and formal ideas, and for working out ideas as a process space where artists and writers are wrestling with what they’re doing, creating notes in the margins.”
Indeed, some of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition are the points at which illuminated manuscripts, rough drafts of works, such as a Charles Bukowski poetic ode to beer, and other assorted marginalia capture the eye and draw it in deeply. The goal, says Nowlin, was “to document the creative process at its onset, before a final version is turned over to the printer, sent out to the professional journal or handed over to the framer.”
This means that attendees are not witnessing the finished works normally displayed in museums and galleries, and that very twist is a large part of its underlying fascination. Nowlin and O’Brien maintained a local focus by drawing the exhibit’s items from the special collections of libraries and institutions across the Greater Los Angeles area.
“Virtually everything in the show is original material, up to 500 years old,” explains Nowlin. “Among these are notebook pages that are one of only three manuscripts in which Albert Einstein actually wrote ‘E=mc2’ on paper, and a certificate showing his high school grades. This meant getting help from places as far flung as the Albert Einstein Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and as local as the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech.”
Tonight’s event features Nowlin and O’Brien in addition to visitors Alan Jutzi, the Avery chief curator of rare books at the Huntington Library, and Daniel Lewis, chief curator of manuscripts at the Huntington Library. Nowlin thought that having the foursome take turns sharing favorite thoughts and stories about pages and their artistic power would provide an intriguing alternative to the usual sit-down panel discussion offered by exhibit openings at many other galleries and museums.
But ultimately, “Pages” is just a fascinating way to spend an hour or so in wonderment — especially when looking at that aforementioned skyscraper of books, titled “Delilah,” by Michael McMillen.
“I saw that in a catalog of his work, called him and said I’d love to put that piece in the show,” says Nowlin. “I told him I wanted it, but he said it didn’t exist anymore, and that he’d scavenged all the books for other works. It gives the illusion that this whole stack of books is compressed between a car jack and the ceiling. That would fall apart after a couple of minutes. There’s actually some sleight of hand that keeps it in place, and there’s a hole drilled through every book with a metal rod which then hangs from the ceiling.”
“Pages” is exhibited through Jan. 13 at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery of Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena. Call (626) 396-2246 or visit williamsongallery.net/pages.