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WOID Bulletin

Out West: The Artist's Book in California. Part I, Northern California
(November 21 - February 27, 1999)
Center for Book Arts
626 Broadway at Houston Street. 5th Floor, New York City 10012.
(212) 460-9768.
Mon - Sat, 10:00-6:00.

"The idea of the book, which always refers to a natural totality, is
profoundly alien to the sense of writing." Quote, unquote, Jacques
Derrida. This is a show that seems quite aware of the paradox - even
consciously aware, if I properly followed a discussion with Melissa
Slattery, one of the artists.

On the one hand, the first sentence in the catalog speaks of "A vision of
the total BOOK;" on the other, almost none of the artists involved have
sacrificed content to form, all-over image to developed narrative or
meaning. The one exception, Bonnie Cohen's "Golden Pheasant Book," which
consists of a few feathers in a feathery binding, is so thoughtful it's
hard to think of it as formal to begin with. And if the catalog's call for
totality represents a certain fear of appearing provincial, it's a
misplaced fear. These works may fail to unite the two poles but they fail
so gracefully, so intelligently, that it's hard to fault them for that.

Ultimately, though, one might fault them for the reverse: the show begins
with a few of the early classics of California visual poetry, like Richard
Brautigan's "Please plant this book" (1968), printed on seed packets. The
collaged chapbooks of the beat poet Wallace Berman are here - or rather,
not here: they're presented in slicked-up reproductions that give no sense
of the raw curiosity about incidentals and accidents of the 'sixties. Some
day, I suspect, the sixties will seem more happily po-mo than the

Melissa was showing me her own book, whose semi-transparent pages reminded
me a little of those great mediators between the All and the incidental,
the stained-glass windows of Chartres. The pages are attached to a series
of dangling eggs, and the whole thing is meant to expand into the gallery
space, incident into totality, writing into reader. The work is not to be
touched, as are all the works in this show, of course.

Not to be touched? A book? The beats would have flipped in their graves...

Paul Werner, New York City

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