The Art of Books Opens at Southampton Arts Center - 27 East

Arts & Living

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The Art of Books Opens at Southampton Arts Center

authorAnnette Hinkle on Feb 23, 2024

“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” — Oscar Wilde

Since the advent of Guttenberg’s printing press in 1454 when books began getting into the hands of the common man and women, words have had the ability to inspire and motivate the masses.

But not everyone has been happy about it. It’s no secret that the written word is under attack around the world. The power words possess to challenge and enlighten society is terrifying to some. Books can change minds and introduce new ideas, which is why they occasionally strike fear in the hearts of those who would seek to control others by limiting access to controversial or contrary ideas. Throughout history, book banning has been used by governments intent on controlling its citizenry. It’s now 2024, but to some it may feel like the Dark Ages as book bans have taken hold in school districts and even some public libraries throughout the country.

For that reason, Christina Moissades Strassfield, director of the Southampton Arts Center, felt this was an opportune time to take a “Look at the Book” in a new exhibition. In the show which goes on view this week, artists who use books, the written word or literary elements in their artwork are taking center stage. The exhibition opens with a public reception at SAC on Saturday, February 24, at 6 p.m. and runs through May 4.

“I’m excited about this one,” said Strassfield, who joined SAC a little more than a year ago and formerly served as the museum director at Guild Hall in East Hampton. “I did a book show years ago with [artist Randall Rosenthal] and he worked with different artists and they do some unusual things. I also did a show of children’s book illustrations. A lot of wonderful artists use books in their work.”

The SAC show includes 33 artists and close to 130 pieces. In addition to Rosenthal, who sculpts hyper-realistic books from pieces of wood, among them is North Fork artist Ellen Weiner who creates large, textural book-themed art pieces, including accordion-style folded books. East Hampton artist Gabriele Raacke’s reverse paintings on glass reference a technique that was used in her native Germany in the 18th century. Her colorful pieces offer whimsical and poignant takes on literature, while Sag Harbor artist Dorothy Frankel’s ceramic pieces in this show highlight the love of literature by depicting readers lounging in various poses with books in their hands.

“Barbara Slate does graphic novels. She was one of the first to do that. We have work from her graphic novel ‘Mirror Test’ about Cassidy Hutchinson and her time at the White House,” said Strassfield. “Each of the artists is amazing. Barbara will be doing an interactive reading of her Cassidy Hutchinson book.”

While Strassfield had worked with many of the show’s participating artists in the past, they, in turn, often referred artists that were new to her for this exhibition.

“I had shown a number of the artists at Guild Hall, some I had always wanted to show but I hadn’t had a chance,” Strassfield explained. “It’s a mixture of people. We have a lot of local artists, we have an artist from D.C., another from upstate.

“One other thing I think is so exciting is a man who I just found out about — John Buchbinder, an East Hampton resident,” Strassfield continued. “He has Alzheimer’s and was a photographer in his professional life. He can remember for 30 seconds at a time and is using his photography to put images in a book as a reference to remember. We are going to include his book in the show. It shows how important books are for memories.”

The art in “Look at the Book” also delves into the more political side of literature. Barry Holden’s sculptural work in the show uses empty books to reference all of the banned books in America, while Richard Minsky’s art books address the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Minsky is not only an artist, but also a scholar of bookbinding and the founder of the Center for Book Arts in New York City. A work by another bookbinder, Paul Vogel, is centered on the Oxford English dictionary. Included in the piece is physical copy of the book along with a disk drive containing the dictionary in digital form, representing a technology that at some point in the future won’t be able to be read anymore, while the paper book will still be relevant, as long as people know how to read.

“This exhibition is a fascinating exploration of the evolving role of books in our digital society, the implication on society of banning books and the constant need to defend freedom of speech in today’s America,” Strassfield noted. “It also delves into personal and societal literacy, which is still a challenge in the United States, especially in Suffolk County.”

To that end, there are a number of public programs scheduled at SAC throughout the show’s run, from an interactive reading of Barbara Slate’s graphic novel “Mirror Test: The Cassidy Hutchinson Story,” to a screening of the Oscar-nominated short film “The ABCs of Book Banning” which shows the impact of school restrictions on books from the point of view of the young people who are affected by these bans.

“A Look at the Book’s” 33 artists are: Anita Balkun, Mary Ellen Bartley, Stephanie Brody-Lederman, John Buchbinder, Neke Carson, Carolyn Conrad, AG Duggan, Patricia Feiwel, Dorothy Frankel, Chip Haggerty, Barry Holden, Carol Hunt, Elaine de Kooning, Donald Lipski, Christa Maiwald, Karyn Mannix, Richard Minsky, Jennie Nichols, Alfonso Ossorio, Erin Parsch, Goran Petmil, Joe Pintauro, Gabriele Raacke, Randall Rosenthal, Barbara Slate, Hadley Vogel, Paul Vogel, Dan Welden, Halsted S. Welles, Ellen Wiener, Julie Wolfe, Nina Yankowitz, and 00100011 [#HASHTAG].

“The artists are all wonderful. I wanted to make it an exhibition that had legs as important and people would talk about,” Strassfield said. “The work is interesting in and of itself. People in the community year round will relate to it and talk about it.

“I’m really thrilled with this show. It’s a mixture of things and I think it will be very multi-media,” she added. “There will be something for everyone.”

“Look at the Book” opens at Southampton Arts Center with a 6 p.m. reception on Saturday, February 24. The show remains on view through May 4. Southampton Arts Center is at 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. For details, visit southamptonartscenter.org.

“Look at the Book” Programming

 

Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. – “Look at the Book Curated Gallery Tour” with SAC executive director Christina Mossaides Strassfield

Saturday, March 16, at 2 p.m. – “Interactive Reading of ‘Mirror Test the Cassidy Hutchinson Story’” at 2 p.m. followed by a live reading of the Barbara Slate Story at 3 p.m. (illustrator of Amelia Bedelia children’s books, authored by her father, Fritz Siegel)

Friday, March 23, at 1 p.m. – “Meet the Artists Gallery Tour,” artists discuss the inspiration for their pieces

Saturday, March 30, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. – “Look at the Book Art Workshop” with Karyn Mannix: “Create a Watercolor Accordion Book” from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. for ages 12 and under; “Create a 3D Abstract Accordion Book” from 3 to 5 p.m. for adults.

Saturday, April 6, at 12:30 p.m. – “Look at the Book Art Workshop” for adults. Barbara Slate will show bookmakers different ways to realize a unique book while discussing the meaning of books in society.

Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m. – “The ABCs of Book Banning.” The Academy Award-nominated short film “The ABCs of Book Banning,” directed by Trish Adiesic, Naz Habtezghi and Sheila Nevins, reveals the voices of the impacted parties of books banned from school districts, inspiring hope for the future through the profound insights of inquisitive youthful minds.

Saturday, April 20, at 2:30 p.m. – “Libraries Today and Tomorrow” with Elizabeth Burns, director of the Rogers Memorial Library, who joins other librarians for a lively discussion on libraries today and tomorrow. Moderated by Christina Mossaides Strassfield.

Saturday, May 4, at 3 p.m. – John’s Memory Book with John Buchbinder and Marta Kazandjian who go through Buchbinder’s old artist books to present to the audience.

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