Jorge Luis Borges once wrote “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” If he could visit "The Illuminated Library" at San Francisco State University's Fine Arts gallery, he would believe himself in paradise.
The historical books on display at the "The Illuminated Library" include a 14th century Book of Hours in pristine condition, still with its original binding. There are two pages of Gregorian chant, written on vellum with the raised gold letters that sparkle in the light.
But the show is more than medieval manuscripts. It includes a lively and electic selection of Bay Area artists who also work in the book arts, a group that includes contemporary artists like Enrique Chagoya, Nina Katchadourian, Jason Jagel, Clare Rojas and Brian Dettner.
The old SFSU library has been under going massive renovations for over four years and all these treasures had been kept in storage. Sharon Bilss, the exhibition's curator and Fine Arts Gallery manager decided to celebrate the library's reopening by displaying some of its lesser known treasures.
She also curated a related show called "Bibliphilia" at the Palo Alto Art Center. Pulling from the university's own Frank V. de Bellis Collection and the Sutro Library, the exhibit also displays works from publishers such as Children's Book Press and McSweeney's McMullens, pairing artists who also make books.
Much of the pieces work through indirect references to famous books; for instance Matthew Picton's three-dimensional map of Moscow, built from burnt pieces of literature, depicts the burning of Moscow during the war of 1812. A quote from “War and Peace” lingers in bold red letters at the bottom of the map, “The comet which was said to portend all manner of horrors and the end of the world.”
Claire Rojas' modern take on Amish folk art combined with her newer geometric pieces remind one of the long Protestant tradition that brought the Amish and other Pennsylvania Dutch Groups here. One of the pieces on display is a 2003 codex from Enrique Chagoya, a haunting memory of what was destroyed during the Spanish conquest of Mexico combined with a sharp critique of contemporary Mexican-American relations. Jason Jägel's iosyncratic and indefinable doodles are represented in three different formats - a wall painting, three-dimensional sculptures and a children's book that should appeal to the skateboarder crowd. The new form of book making takes books from the realm of the flat and expands the page into different formats-sculpture, installation, even Tauba Auerbach's 3-dimensional strips woven into colored globes.
The Fine Arts Gallery has also pulled works from the collections of SF State’s Print Archive, which has a longstanding relationship with Bay Area printing presses and local artist/author collaborations. One such collaboration in the show is a broadside created by Jess and poet Robert Duncan in the 1950s, while Duncan was helping develop the University’s Poetry Center.
“There are treasures to be found around every corner of our campus,” says Sharon Bliss, exhibit curator and Fine Arts Gallery manager, “whether it is an artistic collaboration between the school and internationally respected artists such as Jess, the troves of historical gems housed in our beautiful new school library or even the expertise and talents of SF State staff, faculty and students who blur the boundaries of artist and author on a daily basis.”
The Fine Arts Gallery has also joined forces with the Palo Alto Art Center for Bibliophilia, also opening September 21 and curated by Bliss. Bibliophilia features paintings, photographs, drawings and installations by artists united by their love of books and libraries.
Fine Arts Building, Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco, Ca. Phone: 415-338-6535