Peter Selz &
Anthony F. Janson
They are never the best condition copies in the world, but some of the out-of-circulation library copies of the fiber arts books in my collection are my favorite. They are usually vintage and out-of-print versions that are dirt cheap and hold a lot of magic... as well as dings, smudges, and the humble shiny, plastic-laminated book cover that reminds you of that overdue book report you forgot to turn in.
Sometimes a library source aligns so perfectly with the subject-- which is the case with this Barbara Chase-Riboud book. Her iconic 1973 solo exhibition at Berekely Museum of Art (now BAMPFA) introduced her work to the West coast by showing her Malcolm X stele series and Confessions for Myself (1972)— a piece which BAM/PFA’s founding director Peter Selz commissioned in conjunction with the exhibit.
This one is only one of two books I can find about her sculptures and it was written by Peter Selz, published in 1999 by Abrams. As an author, Chase has written many poetry books and historical fiction novels (one even inspired the movie Amistad, but has never wrote about her sculptural work), but she hasn’t written a autobiography or book about art or process as of yet (she has lived an incredible life I would absolutely love to read as a biography though, check out this Wovenutopia post about her life HERE.
Babara Chase-Riboud Sculptor takes you through her early life as an artist, starting as a teenager making noteworthy pieces and offered huge opportunities, later to an MFA student and her international art career. It weaves biographical information, process drawings, her poetry, with historical information and cultural context for her work. It was very interesting to read about art world reception of her work in its time and the art criticism that relied on racism and stereotypes which unfairly compartimentalized her work. The book includes huge color photos of her sculptures that I haven’t seen anywhere on the internet and has a great text-to-image balance in the lay out, and a chronology of her life and exhibition list that I really appreciated in the back for clarity. I couldnt image a book that encompasses so many aspects of her work that also contains such large crisp images. In a very charming way, the images represent vintage art photography, photographed against jewel-tone backgrounds with deep shadow. There are so many scans of her very detailed process drawings which are a work of art in their own right.
If you are moved by her work, this is a perfect inspiration book to get to review her catalog as well as read about her life and career. The text walks the line between a biography, a well written article and an academic art history piece and the format and images feel more like a coffee table book. Its pretty accessible for those without an academic art background but drier in tone than a biography. The frequent quotes and poetry extracts definitely give it a more personal, diary-like feel than most art books, which makes it feel more inviting and immersive than the average art book.