Whitehot Magazine

A Nuanced Exploration of Art Books Made by Three Artists

Despo Magoni, The Secret Life of Ghosts, 2010, Mixed media artist book,7 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches

By ROBERT C. MORGAN April 26, 2024

"Verba volant, Scripta manet" is an intriguing theme of the current exhibition at Paris Koh Gallery, curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos. The exhibition explores the intricate relationship between written language and visual art, offering a nuanced perspective on different forms of artistic expression. The exhibition's Latin title, "(spoken) words fly away; written ones remain," provides a fitting backdrop for the unfolding exploration and leads to the openness of the aesthetic. In an open-ended discussion, we discover the liberal aspects that go beyond the conceptual boundaries in the title. 

Throughout human history, books have served as repositories of text and images. Over time, abstract characters have replaced images in the realm of literature with the purpose of making it easier to convey meaning. Metaphysics has given language credibility, and institutions like religion and politics have reinforced its authority. However, paradoxically, this exhibition brings about deep reflection on the fact that a book is not just a vessel for language but a masterpiece in the boundless creativity of the human spirit. It seeks to go beyond the era of letters and approach humans' natural senses and abilities through images. Artists, in their infinite ingenuity, crafting art books that transcend the boundaries of text and image, challenging the very essence of our understanding. The captivating artwork of three artists, Despo Magoni, Mark Bloch, and Heejung Kim, encourages us to challenge our preconceptions of visual and textual expression and to explore beyond traditional boundaries and conventions. 

Mark Bloch, The Museum of Good Ideas III, 2014, cardboard box, index cards, marker, 8 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches

The exhibition's centerpiece is a mixed-media collection by Despo Magoni. Her unique method of creating art books involves reassembling existing novels with her own artistic intentions. This approach reflects her exceptional artistic sensibilities as she transitioned from literature to the visual arts. Her self-made storytelling book is crafted in the scroll format used in classical Oriental art and placed inside a small chocolate box. Without opening the box, viewers can imagine the story, but they can also presume the content of her work as it unfolds. Magoni's artwork touches on themes such as her personal struggle against a violent and patriarchic culture, containing traces of other people's lives and reflecting many of our own emotions in works such as The Secret Life of Ghosts (2010) and The Year of Snake(2001). In addition, the series of A Thousand and One Nights (1996- 2000) shows Magoni's skillful blend of painting and storytelling, reviving the timeless story of Scheherazade. Her art book creates an inviting world where narrative and imagery converge in captivating ways. Visitors are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in this world and experience the mesmerizing effects of Magoni's work.

Equally compelling is the work of conceptual artist Mark Bloch, who has produced some fascinating work that rethinks how communication is done in the digital era. His work used different materials, such as advertisements and letters, reminding the Dadaist’s iconoclasm of restricted prejudice and the notion of art authority. Steeped in the mail art tradition, Bloch's voyage into the realm of communication began with the founding of PAN- the Postal Art Network in 1978. One of Bloch's most intriguing pieces, The Museum of Good Ideas III (2014), commands attention to transcend its material constraints, sparking conversations. Yet within this seemingly ordinary assemblage lies a profound meditation on the role of script and mediums of communication in our lives. Similarly, in Storage Box Storage (2010), Bloch presents his own unique storytelling on an old book, transforming a simple storage box into a work of art in its own right. Bloch challenges the viewer to reconsider the boundaries between form and function, inviting us to explore the intersection of storytelling and materiality in the digital age.

Heejung Kim, Aging, 2012, chicken wire, toilet paper, acrylic paint, beads, mop, and wire, 17 x 22 x 24 inches

Finally, Heejung Kim's artist books push the boundaries of the medium, transforming traditional perceptions of the book into sculptural and tactile objects that blur the lines between form and function. Kim's inventive approach invites viewers to engage with her creations on a sensory level, prompting a deeper understanding of the relationship between text and image. One of the impressive works, Karma (2005), is 12 x 24 x 4 inches, making it a proper big book size. In the spread view, the bundle of sharp wooden sticks is held together with thread and a hinge. The term Karma is related to Asian religion; the artist Kim said her work is inspired by Buddhism and the images in her dreams. Pain is inevitable, but it can be embraced by each other, and together they can become a book. 

"The Verba volant, Scripta manet" exhibition offers a comprehensive and insightful exploration of the intersection of artistic expressions with a diverse range of interpretations and thought-provoking themes. The unique and holistic work of art adds to the ongoing dialogue and promises to have a lasting impression on visitors and art enthusiasts alike. Its significance lies in its ability to stimulate critical thinking and broaden the discourse on expression in contemporary art. WM 

Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in AmericaArtsArt NewsArt Press(Paris), Sculpture MagazineThe Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program  at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.


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