Before iPads, smart phones and even computers, there was the page: a tangible place to jot down thoughts, work out ideas, write a novel, love letter, thesis or equation. “Pages,” an exhibition at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, focuses on the simple piece of refined pulp as a place for formal and finished ideas and a space for creativity.
“It’s a way of celebrating the page as our human external memory of choice for the last two millennial,” said co-curator and gallery director Stephen Nowlin.
Comfortably nestled between the oral tradition of storytelling, cave writing and clay tablets and the dawn of digital communication, the page is examined through 80 pieces; a multifarious mix of books, artworks, manuscripts and documents pulled from notebooks, sketchbooks and artists’ studios. The exhibit has been extended through Jan. 27.
Although some works date as far back as the 14th century (a manuscript by Franciscan friar and philosopher William Ockham), Nowlin and co-curator John David O’Brien approached the pages mostly from the standpoint of contemporary art, placing disparate items side by side. One example: Albert Einstein’s notes on the theory of relativity next to text by writer Charles Bukowski.
Nowlin and O’Brien spent 18 months scouring the Huntington Library, the Caltech archives, USC’s Doheny Library, the Albert Einstein archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and private collections for obscure books and relics. “We tried to avoid landmark books, as we didn’t want to imply this was a scholarly survey of seminal books from intellectual history,” said Nowlin. “It’s more of an immersion in the culture of pages as it existed throughout time.”
A heavily marked page from Mark Twain’s personal copy of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” reveals his editing process for the second edition. “Even after he’d written and published the book, he was still rewriting and changing some of the language,” noted Nowlin. “You can see where he’s crossed things out and put them back in so you can see his thinking process.”
Works by 22 artists, including Ed Ruscha, Hans Burkhardt and Alexandra Grant, are also on view. “Delilah,” a ceiling-high tower of stacked books by Michael C. McMillen, stands precariously in the middle of the room. An adjoining 36-foot-wide wall is covered with 100 botanical drawings by New York artist Robert Kushner. He collected orphaned pages from flea markets and book and antique shops, then painted flowers and plants over the original text and diagrams.
Santa Ana-based artist Suvan Geer, who has four pieces in the show, has been working with books for years. “Its fascinating how a dry piece of paper with scratches of ink has the power to magically create a new reality in our minds,” she said. Her piece “Loose Ends” features clusters of hair growing out of a page — a comparison to a corpse that continues to grow hair and nails days after death. “I see books as a container of something that was alive.”