Published: July 18, 2006
Delicate line drawings by Edouard Manet, brilliantly colored brushstrokes by Pablo Picasso and eye-catching watercolors by Joan Miró – all designed to appear between the covers of a book – are some of the highlights of a new exhibition, “French Book Art|Livres d’Artistes: Artists and Poets in Dialogue,” at The New York Public Library.
Although better known for their works on canvas, artists such as Picasso, Henri Matisse and René Magritte collaborated with poets such as Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Gide and others to pioneer the concept of the artist’s book, in which words and pictures come together in a unique fashion. The library, at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, is the only venue in the United States for this exhibition, which will be on view, at no charge, through August 19, at the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall on the first floor
Beginning in France in the 1870s, as a vibrant arts scene wasemerging following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the jointventures between artists and poets produced some of the world’smost richly imagined artists’ books. “French Book Art” exhibits 126books created between 1874 and 1999, many of which are accompaniedby counterpoints – original works of art relating to or contrastingwith the books on display. Also featured will be photographs andsculpture depicting many of the artists and authors represented inthe exhibition.
The exhibition is co-organized by the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, Paris, and The New York Public Library, with items drawn from the collections of both institutions, along with rarely seen works from private French collections. The exhibition is curated by Yves Peyré, director of the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, with the assistance of H. George Fletcher, the Brooke Russell Astor director for special collections at The New York Public Library.
Noted for their striking beauty, unique formats and variety in size and theme, the artists’ books on view are distinguished in their page design, typography, imagery, printing processes and paper quality.
From watercolors and washes to etchings and woodcuts, theartworks carry the signature styles of the masters who createdthem. Related drawings, etchings, pamphlets, posters and manuscriptpages serve as counterpoints, offering context and background forthe collaborations between the artists and poets.
In addition, a portrait gallery constitutes an exhibition within the exhibition, presenting photographs of many of the featured artists and poets by master photographers such as Nadar, Brassaï, Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The exhibition traces the history of the French avant-garde movement in art and literature, which sought to break from established norms of book publishing and traditional standards of typography, printing, page design and paper selection.
The books on view illustrate the creative contribution made by artists and poets associated with a wide variety of artistic movements, including Symbolism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism and Existentialism. The collaborators worked as equal partners, each contributing a balanced proportion of the whole. On occasion, an individual poet or artist was responsible for both text and image, resulting in a dialogue with the self.
The books on view ranges from Manet and Stephane Mallarmé, L’Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun), 1876, and Le Voyage d’Urien (Urien’s Voyage), 1893, by André Gide and the artist Maurice Denis, to the collaboration between poet Tristan Tzara and Picasso, Le Rose et le chien (The Rose and the Dog), 1958 and Au travail ma chérie (Darling, Get to Work), 1992, by Dominique Fourcade and Pierre Buraglio.
For more information, docent tours, other exhibitions at the other libraries in the NYPL system, www.nypl.org.
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