“Matchmaker” (left) and “Wedding,” from Beth Grossman’s”Passage” series on display in “Women of the Book.”
When you think of “art books,” a thick, slickly produced tomecomes to mind — the kind of immovable slab meant to sit on anexpensive coffee table. “Artist books,” however, are somethingaltogether different, as visitors to the Finegood Art Gallery of theJewish Federation/Valley Alliance will see when “Women of the Book”opens on Nov. 23.
An artist book is not a catalog or neatly trimmed collection ofimages, but, rather, a highly personal and often tactile work of artin itself, according to Judith Hoffberg, the exhibition’s curator andherself an avid collector of artist books. The 135 examples ondisplay at the Finegood were created by 86 Jewish women artists fromAustralia, Canada, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and theUnited States. Some were mass-produced. Others are one-of-a-kindworks. The books are constructed from a wide range of media,including paper, fabric and glass.
“These have been made since artists were in caves, but therenaissance in artist books really began in the 1960s with the adventof the offset press and the copy machine,” Hoffberg said. “These wereinexpensive projects, accessible for a few dollars. And it was a wayto be seen for artists who didn’t have access to a museum or gallerywall. It was a medium that democratized things, particularly womenartists.”
Hoffberg assembled the show by putting out a call on the Internetand culling through “an incredible number of responses,” she said.Most of the works in this exhibition relate to aspects of the Jewishexperience: Religious ritual, cultural roots, liturgy, the Holocaust,family relationships and kabbalistic mysticism are explored in avariety of ways. There are memoirs, stories of Chelm, and books ofthe Aleph-Bet. Gayle Wimmer, an art professor in Arizona,incorporated handkerchiefs that belonged to her father. MarilynRosenberg constructed a sculptural piece entitled “Remembering BabiYar.” Using a haunting, old photograph as a starting point, artistRuth Weisberg gave every person in the picture a Yiddish name.
An interactive CD-ROM and videotape complement the exhibition.Some of the books may be handled by visitors with gloves supplied bythe gallery, Hoffberg said. (Several pieces that are notone-of-a-kind works will be available for order, although theirquantities are limited. Prices range from $10 to $5,000.) “Theseshould be touched and read, not mummified,” Hoffberg said.”Otherwise, they’re no longer books.”
“Women of the Book” opens on Sunday, Nov. 23, with a 1:30 p.m.panel discussion and a 3 p.m. reception, and will run through Jan.11, 1998. A public walk-through with the curator will be held on Dec.7 from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is free. For information, or to arrangedocent tours, call (818) 587-3218. Call Hoffberg at (310) 399-1146 toarrange college or university student tours. The Finegood Art Galleryis at 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.