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On Galleries and White Gloves

On Galleries and White Gloves by Peter Thomas

From The Gospel of the Book According to Peter: Book seven, Chapter six:

Artists’ Books are not two or three-dimensional art works, like paintings or sculpture, which can be shown behind glass, or displayed in a museum or gallery. They are four-dimensional objects that must be held to be fully appreciated. The fourth dimension is time, the time of the story, the time to view the interior and exterior features; and time cannot be displayed statically.

Although Artist’s Books view best when actually held, an Artists’ Book can also be successfully shown in a gallery or museum. The problems inherent in showing Artists’ Books in a gallery setting should not be considered a problem of the venue, but rather a problem of the education of the viewer. Because book arts is a relatively new media, most people who view book arts gallery shows have not taken book arts appreciation classes and do not really know how to look. (In contrast, for example, there are all sorts of art appreciation classes for those who want to view oil paintings.) In fact those classes do not exist yet.

When Artists’ Books are displayed in settings where they cannot be touched, what often happens is that instead of appreciating the experience for what it is, (i.e. enjoying the object qualities of the work) the viewer is disappointed. They want to hold the book in their hands, when what they should be doing is appreciating the book on display for its visible aesthetic qualities (e.g. color, shape, etc.).

How do viewers develop the "aesthetic distance" necessary to see a book in a museum as a book in a museum, rather than expecting it to be a book to touch, hold and read?1. One way to gain this distance is to think of a book behind glass as if it were a finely wrought treasure chest: even though there is treasure inside, that fact does not diminish the aesthetic experience of viewing the exterior of the chest. Certainly book arts education will help, but the real challenge belongs to those who create Artists’ Books: If they are going to make Artists’ Books that will be put on display, those books must be successful works of art both in the case and in the viewer’s hand.

Until the time comes when Artists’ Book history appreciation classes are commonly taught there will need to be techniques to alert the viewer that they are looking at works of art. White gloves can serve this purpose. Donning the gloves prepares the viewer for a special experience. The white gloves tell the viewer that the books they are looking at are not common books, but rather works of art. But the white glove can also diminish the viewer’s experience: they do not allow the viewer a tactile experience. I therefore propose that the fingers should be cut off of white gloves. With finger tips exposed, the viewer will have the tactile experience, yet will still be reminded that the book is not to be treated as an ordinary book.

1. see the writings of Edward Bullough for a thorough treatment of "aesthetic distance"

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