Features & Columns

Beauty of Books the Focus
of 3 New SJICA Exhibitions

The three shows, along with 46 others, may even set a record for the most
artists ever simultaneously exhibiting at SJICA.
STORY WITH A TWIST: 'New Punctuation' was made with hand-cut archival microprint paper, nylon and cast plastic. Photo by Jann Nunn

Not many galleries can open three shows at once, but this weekend the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art will do just that, unleashing three exhibitions that highlight the creative use of paper and books. Time-tested techniques of photography, collage, assemblage, textile work, sculpture, ready-mades and more will persuade gallery participants to rethink their relationships to these media.

The three shows, along with 46 others, may even set a record for the most artists ever simultaneously exhibiting at SJICA. We will have to wait and see. In any event, attendees will explore deep below the surface of everyday objects.

Two shows—NextNewPaper and This is Not a Book: Chapter 2—will take over the main galleries. In the first case, 19 Bay Area artists articulate the myriad ways in which the material of paper can serve as source material. In the other half of the gallery, Donna Seager, of Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, helped orchestrate a show of visual works made from books, pages, book covers or any assemblage of book pieces by an international array of artists. Even though the presentation is that of two distinct shows, they don't necessarily require the visitor/participant to experience them separately. One will immediately forge connections between the two. All the world is a page, in this case.

For NextNewPaper, Annie Vought provides a large-scale mandala of intricate design, a silhouette-like reflecting pond of painstaking detail that resonates like an optical illusion, with light and shadow fusing into one. A big piece, it traps the viewer into something 3D, yet something meditative. One can stare at it for an hour. I dove in and got lost. In fact, I'm still lost in it.

There's also a collaboration between Loren King and Julia Goodman. Via handmade paper, yarn and markers, we see brain maps of four different individuals. They could be mixed-media Rorschach tests, but there's an organizational playfulness to them—or maybe a playful organization—that straddles the route between art and research.

In Michael Buscemi's case, he provided two of his large-scale white-on-white collages of thinly cut rag paper strips. The detail is painstaking in a glorious way.

This is Not a Book: Chapter 2 arrives thanks to the Seager Gray Gallery, a place regularly foregrounding the genre of book art, or visual works created with book parts. Upon immersion in the show, one forgets all assumptions about spines or cloth pages. Imagine elegant chess pieces fabricated from miniscule book pages.

In another instance, visualize open-spine books converted into tea-stained swaddling pillows for a corner installation and that's what Jody Alexander did. An artist, bookbinder, papermaker, librarian and teacher, Alexander removes the book covers, metaphorically tearing away the layers to reveal the beauty, variation and craftsmanship of book spines, carefully wrapping them in cotton batting, after which she then tea-stains the batting, so it matches the aged colors of the book spines.

Book beauty is more than skin deep, of course.

The pages don't stop there. Over in the back room, formerly the ICA's print center, now rechristened the Off Center Gallery, the photography of Mary Ellen Bartley explores the materiality of the printed book, but in zen-like simplicity. Looking Between the Covers includes work from three still life series made between 2009 and 2012.

Still life has multiple layers of meaning in this sense. The pages come to "life" via the photos while appearing "still" in the way a zen monk might appear while meditating. Alive or not, and with profound subtlety, the images convey a daring close-up of the ways that pages unfurl when a book is placed on its spine. The photos offer a pleasantly puzzling harmonization of opposites: form and no-form; context and subtext; intimacy and distance. Looking Between the Covers is the first solo show to take advantage of the newly renovated, former print center space.

Opening Reception
Sunday, June 5
Members Preview, 1-2pm
Public Reception, 2-4pm