When spring rears its head, out come the summer articles: beach body regimes, sunscreen reviews, and the inevitable reading list. A leftover from school days gone by, summer reading lists exist in an editorial bubble unto themselves. Marketed as lighter, fluffier or simply more pleasurable than other books (think: Fifty Shades of Grey or Sweetbitter), beach reads often go overlooked when it comes to more academic critiques. The same can be said of artist books: a sizable portion of the contemporary art produced today, artist monographs are still looked at as accessories to the real thing. Thankfully, a new exhibition at Fortnight Institute in the East Village is making a strong case for abandoning these prejudices.
Simply titled Summer Reading, the group show transforms the petite gallery space into an absurdist library. The show, curated by Fortnight Institute founders Jane Harmon and Fabiola Alondra, includes 26 works, and rather than a singular shelf, the books live on custom displays and pedestals the duo made for the occasion. “When we decided to this exhibition, we wanted to take on the challenge of figuring out how to make it work in a small space,” Alondra explains. “I find that the beauty of small spaces allow for more creativity both for us as owners installing the show and for the artists having limitations in space. I believe that small spaces are more interesting for these reasons. It feels more radical.”
The space certainly feels awakened. Each book is more inviting then the next. Known entities like Ed Ruscha, Rita Ackermann, and Marilyn Minter make appearances, but it’s the work that is not immediately knowable that intrigues. Artist Justin James Reed’s flameworked glass book speaks without words, as does Elizabeth Jaeger’s The coffee table book. “Books are about reading and artist books engage with visual literacy which is important,” Harmon explains. As a reader, you’re thinking about the images you’re seeing in a sequence and what you can take away from it. Artists books can speak through words and/or images.”
While words can be found in Chris Habib’s cast bubblegum book, the Pepto-pink volume leaves one speechless. Like Reed’s translucent sculpture, which harks back to reliquaries, Habib’s work looks at how the book functions outside of its denomination as a content holder. “We wanted to address books as ‘impossible objects’ which is a counterpoint [to] the seasonal beach reads that are popular this time of year,” Harmon says. “When you look at our exhibition, I think it’s not so impossible. Perhaps it calls for a different way of reading and looking. There it a certain level of curiosity that people who are drawn to books have. You see something and you open it to discover more. We invited artists to be part of the exhibition that we were curious about such as Rita Ackermann and Aïda Ruilova who we felt had a relationship to books.” Ruilova and Ackermann didn’t disappoint. Ruilova’s contribution, Pussy is stronger than god, comes with a graphic tee that reads the same--a radical if not poetic way to wear your heart on your sleeve.
With only two solo shows—Carmen Winant and Bp Laval—under their belt, Summer Reading marks Fortnight's first foray into group shows. It plays to the strength of founders, Harmon and Alondra, who both worked on Fulton Ryder, Richard Prince’s publishing imprint. An exhibiton that gives levity and space to a frequently neglected subject, Summer Reading feels neither fluffy nor light, but surprisingly mature. The objects are precious and percoious. Refuting the constraints of the wall or the floor, they exist comfortably in a contended middle ground, making the exhibition intriguingly self-guided. Like all libraries and bookshops, curiosity, and personal interest are everything. Of course, asking the owner a question is always recommended, too. “I think making a book as art object and vice versa is always a challenge for artists, a challenge they get excited about because it allows for a different way of being experimental and creative,” Alondra says when speaking about artist’s attraction to publishing. “It allows for freedom.”
Summer Reading is on view through August 13 at Fortnight Institute. For more information, click here.