"Poems and Pictures" at the Center for Book and Paper Arts
Cuneiform Press curates collaborations between artists and poets.
One can’t help but want to hold the gorgeous handcrafted objects in “Poems and Pictures: A Renaissance in the Art of the Book (1946–81).” But these rare and limited-edition books, periodicals and collages are enclosed in glass cases—so, no turning pages, touching delicate bindings or smelling ink.
Curated by Cuneiform Press founder Kyle Schlesinger and originally mounted at New York’s Center for Book Arts, “Poems & Pictures” features publications that evocatively merge word and image, including 60 books published by Jargon Society and other small presses. It would be particularly fun to sift through California artist Wallace Berman’s Semina, a journal composed of poems, drawings and photos printed on loose-leaf cards. Mailed to Berman’s friends and collaborators from 1955–64, the proto-zine looks contemporary.
Collaboration is one thread that binds together this somewhat unwieldy exhibition, beginning with artists and poets who congregated at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Motherwell. The show continues through the ’60s and ’70s with second-generation New York School writers and artists: The Vermont Notebook (1975) pairs Joe Brainard’s ink drawings with John Ashbery’s abstract, diary-like odes, while a series of Pop Art–y collages (pictured) created by painter George Schneeman and poet Ron Padgett wittily combines old ads, children’s book drawings and scraps of newspaper text.
Schneeman’s 2009 New York Times obituary says, “Painters and writers both confront a blank, white expanse…and it [is] far more companionable for them to face it together.” “Poems & Pictures” proves that when it comes to imaginative publishing, two heads are typically better than one.