"SO CALled Books" showcases the uniqueness and individuality of the work of book artists from Southern California. The diversity of the population adds to the artistic complexity -- people are of Asian, European, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Native American backgrounds; they come from every continent and every section of our nation; and they work in everything from show business to aerospace. The region's book arts reflect that multiplicity and give the region a spark that makes for exciting art. And contrary to all the clichés, Californians are not laid back; they work intensely at the cutting edge, experimenting with new visual forms. The exhibition offers a sampling of the innovation in artists' books being created today in the Golden West.
Southern California has a long tradition of artists' books. Among the European artists who came to the Los Angeles area fleeing from the Nazis were some who had been part of the Dada movement, artists who had experimented with concrete poetry and livres des artistes. The Fluxus movement found its way here in the 1950s and '60s and spurred area artists on the road to involvement with artists' books. Ed Ruscha's 1962 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations was a key and a catalyst, establishing the notion that what a book represents matters less than what it dismisses -- traditional art, literature, and typography. The book became a primary vehicle for art, a democratic art form available at a low price. (Ruscha's book is now a collector's item, very rare and very expensive.) Many more books followed, and the bookstore at the Pasadena (now Norton Simon) Museum began selling more of Ruscha's books along with those of John Baldessari, Guy de Cointet, Suzanne Lacy, and others. The bustling Women's Graphic Center in Los Angeles produced artists' books and offered classes in the new genre. Artists such as Mariona Barkus, Susan King, and Katherine Ng teethed at that space and have since become formidable icons in this art form.
Today there are many artists producing books, unique and multiple, and their work is reaching out in various directions. Many institutions, such as the Athenaeum School of the Arts in La Jolla, Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and Scripps College in Claremont, offer classes in book arts. The libraries at the Getty Center, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and others are buying these books for their special collections. Judith Hoffberg of Santa Monica, publisher of Umbrella magazine and an important curator, has been a major force throughout the world in promoting artists' books. Harry Reese, founder of Turkey Press, established the book arts program at UC Santa Barbara, and he and his wife, Sandra, make and publish some of the finest multiple books. Several California book centers have been established in the last few years, including the San Diego Book Artists, San Francisco Center for the Book, and a new Central Coast group, located in Santa Barbara.
-- Gloria Helfgott, Exhibition Curator
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