On Galleries and White Gloves by Peter Thomas
From The Gospel of the Book According to Peter: Book seven, Chapter
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