The Library Project

Not long ago, I posted a story about British -Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s book art project at the Cleveland Library called The American Library Project. Now his companion project called The British Library  has found its way into Tate Modern’s permanent collection.

Composed of thousands of books bound in Dutch wax print, the installation is supported by a digital platform which allows readers to submit their own stories of the impact that migration has had on British culture, society, and history.

2,700 of the books have had their spines transformed, with the names of notable first and second generation immigrants to the UK printed in gold leaf, creating an onomastic overview of British history which takes in everyone from Kazuo Ishiguro to Dame Helen Mirren.

A statement on the installation’s website notes: “Whilst the project is a celebration of the ongoing contributions made to British society by people who have arrived here from other parts of the world or whose ancestors came to Britain as immigrants, it does not exclude the points of view of those who object to it.”



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History Repeats Itself

Karl Marx wrote that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” This reprint from the St.Louis Dispatch September 9, 1923, should be a reminder of the farce playing itself out across the United States and Europe today.

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21st Century Libraries

Librarians from the historic California State Library in Sacramento created the cartoon-style infographic below to celebrate National Library week and to explore the many roles that libraries can play in the 21st century. Established in 1850, the California State Library is the oldest continuously operated public library in the American West.


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Utrecht by the Book

Over the years, I’ve been very lucky to have visited Utrecht many times, I even had the opportunity to stay for a week about 20 years ago. Sadly, most foreign visitors to the Netherlands overlook this wonderful university city with many of the very same attractions that makesAmsterdam a tourist magnet. Recently street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed worked with local residents to create a marvelous book-themed mural.

They turned an apartment building into a trompe-l’oeil library of huge books. The residents of the building gave the two artists the references for their favorite books. The  resulting painting highlights 49 books from 7 different languages. There are books in  English,Polish, German, Turkish, Arabic, Dutch and French.


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A Bibliophile’s Treasure

In a story right out of a librarian’s dream, a previously unknown volume incorporating thousands of summaries of books from over five centuries ago, many of which no longer exist, has been found in  the University Copenhagen Library, where it has been untouched for more than 350 years.

The Libro de los Epítomes manuscript contains more than 2,000 pages of summaries from  books that were once in the library of Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus who made it his life’s work to create the largest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. At an estimated 15,000 volumes, the library was  created during Colón’s extensive travels. Today, only about 25% of the books in the collection survive and have been housed in  Spain’s Seville Cathedral since 1552.

The long lost Libro de los Epitomes was rediscovered in the Arnamagæan Collection in Copenhagen.The manuscript was found in the collection of Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730. The majority of the some 3,000 items are in Icelandic or Scandinavian languages, with only around 20 Spanish manuscripts, which is probably why the Libro de los Epítomes went unnoticed for hundreds of years. It was Guy Lazure at the University of Windsor in Canada who first spotted the connection to Colón. The Arnamagnæan Institute then contacted Mark McDonald at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who passed it on to Wilson-Lee and his co-author José María Pérez Fernández, of the University of Granada, for verification.

A digitized version of the Libro de los Epitomes will be available next year along with a book about Colon’s library.

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A Very Timely Reminder

The American Library Association recently released its annual Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books, included in the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2019, an annual summary of library trends “that outlines statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries. Never have our nation’s libraries played such a pivotal role in strengthening communities through education and lifelong learning.”

According to the ALA, libraries continue to face challenges,including the potential for censorship,to a wide variety of books, programs and materials. In 2018, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services. Overall, 483 books were challenged or banned.

Usually the ALA releases a Top Ten List, but this year 11 books were selected, since two titles were tied for the final position, and both books were burned by a religious fanatic to protest a Pride event. The list also includes the satirical book Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. The most frequently challenged titles last year were:

  1. George by Alex Gino
  2. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by E. G. Keller
  3. Captain Underpants series, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  5. Drama, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  7. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
  8. Skippyjon Jones series, written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
  9. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  10. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
  11. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
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American Weirdo

This weekend I stumbled upon this terrific retrospective on the way under-appreciated alternative comics series created by R. Crumb in the 1980s. Weirdo bridged the cultural and generational gap between the “underground comix” of the 1960s and the later so-called “alternative comics”. If you are a comic book fan, especially a Robert Crumb devotee, it’s a book worth checking out. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website and a blurb about the book.

The Book of Weirdo is the definitive (as well as hugely entertaining) examination of Weirdo magazine, renowned underground comix cartoonist Robert Crumb’s legendary humor comics anthology from the 1980s. Crumb himself has called the retrospective “a great book” and “the definitive work on the subject.”

A “low-brow” counterpoint to Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s rather high-falootin’ RAW, Weirdo influenced an entire generation of cartoonists, and served as a creative refuge for underground comix veterans and training ground for new creators, and this book features the comprehensive story of the fondly-recalled magazine, along with testimonials from over 130 of the mag’s contributors, plus interviews with Weirdo’s three editors ― R. “Keep on Truckin’” Crumb, Peter “Hate” Bagge, and Aline “The Bunch” Kominsky-Crumb ― as well as publisher “Baba Ron” Turner.

This 288-page hardcover book is as much a comprehensive history of the alternative comics scene of the 1980s and early ’90s ― from New York City punk to Seattle grunge ― as it is the story of a single magazine, an exhaustive retrospective that includes rare and unseen artwork from that era, as well as new comics from modern-day artists paying homage to the great oddball mag. In its time, the periodical featured the finest work of many artists, particularly the best material by R. Crumb himself, Weirdo’s founder and best known for ZAP Comix, Fritz the Cat, and Mr. Natural, and a man widely heralded as the greatest cartoonist of all time.

In 1981, amidst a seismic shift to the right in the country, Crumb responded by unleashing the savagely irreverent and satirical Weirdo onto the great multitude, and he generously welcomed to its pages not just his ZAP Comix underground cohorts, but also an entirely new generation of iconoclastic cartoonists. It was an irreverent, outrageous, often politically-incorrect, and taboo-challenging anthology that showcased Crumb’s finest ― and most controversial ― material. It was gut-busting, hysterical, and frequently offensive. But, most of all, it was FUNNY! Though it finally gave up the ghost by 1993, in its time, Weirdo was one of the very best of its kind… a showcase for outsiders, freaks, and (naturally) weirdos. In fact, truth to tell, it’s the ONLY one of its kind!

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Street Art Fortified

What a brilliant setting for the second museum dedicated to street-art in France, located in the town of Neuf-Brisach (Haut-Rhin), and inaugurated on July 7, 2018, the Musee D’Art Urbain et De Street Art (MAUSA) is situated in the 18th century Vauban fortress. The UNESCO World Heritage site, just south of Strasbourg, inside the citadel has more than 2 kilometers of galleries  displaying the work of celebrated European street artists like SethMesnagerGuy DenningLevalet , Pure Evil and Denis Meyers. I’m just waiting for Banksy to show-up before I visit.


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We Can Be Heroes

Writer Todd Alcott has a brilliant side gig reimagining David Bowie songs as pulp fiction-style books. His clever bookcovers reference classic paperback books. You can see more of the covers at Alcott’s Etsy site and even purchase your own copies.

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Slow Down You Look Too Fast

Today, art museums, galleries, and other institutions around the world are marking the annual Slow Art Day with a wide variety of tours, activities and events that all encourage visitors to take more time with art. The concept is quite simple, by spending more more time with works of art we can make a more mindful connection. The annual Slow Art Day is the brainchild of Phil Terry who founded the event in 2009. Terry was motivated by the trend by museums towards blockbuster shows that herd visitors through exhibitions like cattle without providing time to engage with the art. He got the idea for a slow art day while visiting New York City’s Jewish Museum, where he spent an hour with Hans Hoffman’s painting Fantasia. 

Over the last decade, Slow Art Day has been embraced by hundreds of institutions and has inspired events across the globe, even in Antarctica. Terry describes the slow art movement as an “open-source idea” that museums and galleries can build on.

Once again, this year hundreds of venues have committed to participate in Slow Art Day. Check out the website to find one near you.

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