Posted April 9, 2024

Charles Library’s ‘The Art of the Book’ exhibition asks, “What is a book?”

The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between graduate students at Tyler School of Art and Architecture and Temple Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center.  

The inside of a book
Photography By: 
Sophia Dell'Arciprete, Natalia Purchiaroni, William Toney, and Yaqeen Yamani, with Byron Wolfe
The Art of the Book: Treasures from the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, a new exhibit at Charles Library, features 40 rare books challenging the preconceived definitions of a book.

What is a book? The Art of the Book: Treasures from the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, a new exhibition opening in the first-floor exhibit space in Charles Library on April 12, seeks to answer this question by presenting 40 examples that challenge preconceived definitions of what a book can be.

It’s a unique collection that was conceived of and curated by graduate students at Tyler School of Art and Architecture under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Instruction Joseph Kopta. It features rare books, manuscripts, zines and artist books in Temple Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC).

The Art of the Book graduate student-curated exhibition is the culmination of an exciting collaboration between the SCRC and Tyler School of Art and Architecture faculty and students, a collaboration that highlights both the Temple University Libraries’ rich collections and the teaching and learning opportunities that we facilitate here in the Libraries,” said Kimberly Tully, librarian and curator of rare books at the SCRC.

The 40 objects in the exhibition explore the form and function of books across time. “20’ of facts, or, What happens every minute” by contemporary artist Werner Pfeiffer is a measuring tape that has facts about the passage of time printed on it instead of measurements, blurring the lines between book and art object. “Love Letter II” by Halah Khan is a book of Urdu poetry sewn on textile panels incorporating embroidery and crochet, pushing the boundaries of conventional printing and binding into question. And the collection’s manuscripts demonstrate the various ways books have been used throughout history, such as the richly illustrated “Book of Hours,” which was used in fifteenth-century France as a method of keeping time.

To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, an accompanying symposium will feature research revealed during the exhibition curation process and a keynote address from Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, who digitally reconstructed a medieval manuscript, one page of which is in possession of Temple’s collection and will be featured in the exhibit.

An opening reception will include remarks from the graduate student curators, a musical performance of some of the exhibition’s music manuscripts by graduate students from Boyer College of Music and Dance, the launch of the exhibition’s companion website and research resource, and the launch of the exhibition’s print catalog.

“At a moment when networked digital affordances obfuscate handiwork and the hands of the maker, this project has drawn a group of graduate students—artists and thinkers—into the complex and various history of books and bookmaking with an intensity of focus that I am sure has been revelatory and enlightening for all involved,” said Dean of Libraries Joe Lucia, who will give opening remarks at the reception along with Tyler School of Art and Architecture Dean Susan E. Cahan.

The Art of the Book is the result of conversations between Tully and Kopta, an art historian of the medieval world, on how the SCRC’s collection of rare books and printed materials could be used to teach the history of the book as an art form. Those conversations spurred A Look at a Book, a public program in which faculty and graduate students from Tyler School of Art and Architecture presented a single object from the SCRC in a virtual platform. The success of A Look at a Book led to the creation of graduate seminar taught by Kopta, Problems in Medieval Art: Curating the Codex, a hybrid course covering the history and theory of the art of the book, whose students curated The Art of the Book.

The Art of the Book—its accompanying symposium, opening reception, print catalog and web presence—are the result of the work of graduate students from the art history, ceramics, graphic and interactive design, and sculpture programs at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

The exhibition closes July 15 and is free and open to the public between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.