Mortimer Rare Book Room Exhibitions

Exhibitions in the Library

Exhibitions of manuscripts, rare books, and contemporary book arts are shown in three places in Neilson Library: in the Morgan Gallery on the main floor, in the Book Arts Gallery on the third floor, and in the Mortimer Rare Book Room vestibule.

Fall 2014

Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter

September 2 - December 15, 2014
Books Arts Gallery, Neilson Library, Level 3

Artist and writer Robert Seydel (1960-2011) left behind a multi-layered, highly original body of work marked by an unrelenting sense of play. His extraordinary and eclectic production incorporated collage, drawing, photography, and narrative and lyric writing, often using various personas and fictional constructs to explore the boundaries between the salvaged and the lost, the unknown and the unknowable, the art that is made and the art that is found. In Book of Ruth, which is featured in this exhibition, Seydel’s primary alter ego is Ruth Greisman – banker by day, artist by night, friend of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell – who lived in Queens and cared for her WWI shell-shocked brother.

“Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter,” a major retrospective exhibition at Smith College, features a definitive selection from Seydel’s acclaimed “Ruth” series — more than 300 collages, “journal pages,” and drawings — which purportedly were discovered buried in boxes of miscellanea in the Joseph Cornell Study Center at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art and in the family garage. The exhibition, curated by Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft, and Lisa Pearson, and sponsored by the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, will include many previously unpublished and unexhibited works, as well as Seydel’s notebooks, open to reveal the process of making this visionary body of work.

"Untitled" by Robert Seydel, n.d.

"Untitled" by Robert Seydel, n.d. 
© the Estate of Robert Seydel

In conjunction with the exhibition, on September 29, at 6 pm in the Neilson Library Browsing Room at Smith College, there will be a roundtable discussion about Seydel’s unusual combination of writing and visual art. A reception in the Book Arts Gallery following the presentation will afford visitors a close look at the exhibition. This event is co-sponsored by Flying Object, Hadley, MA.

“Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter” coincides with the publication of A Picture is Always a Book: Further Writings from the Book of Ruth, edited by Lisa Pearson of Siglio Press, with an interview by Savina Velkova. The book is co-published with the Mortimer Rare Book Room, and copies will be available during the exhibition. A Picture Is Always a Book is a first person, fictional archive, collecting over seventy of Ruth’s “journal pages,” luminescent writings infused with play and pathos, typed up on paper purloined from old photo albums, adorned with drawings in colored pencils, oil pens, white-out, and ink stamps.

Seydell trained as a photographer (MFA, Rhode Island School of Design, 1990) but also had an academic background in literature (BFA, New York University in Photography and English, 1984). Seydel began his pursuit of a hybrid species of art and literature soon after graduate school. In addition to his work as an artist and writer, Seydel was an editor, curator, and teacher who taught for more than a decade at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, and curated more than a dozen exhibitions at various venues. All items on exhibition are on loan from the Estate of Robert Seydel.

More information also at Siglio Press.

“Journal Page, Almost March” by Robert Seydel, n.d. from A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth (Siglio and Smith College Libraries, 2014). © the Estate of Robert Seydel.

Exhibition Curator Biographies

Peter Gizzi is an acclaimed poet and the author of six volumes of poetry and dozens of limited edition chapbooks and artist books. His most recent publication, In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987-2011, was released by Wesleyan University Press in 2014. His writing has earned him several honors, including a Guggenheim in 2005. Editor of oblēk: a journal of language arts (1987-1993) and two volumes of writings by Jack Spicer, Gizzi teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Richard Kraft is an artist in Los Angeles working in collage, photography, performance, and installation. His artist book Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera will be published by Siglio Press in early 2015, and in the spring he will mount a large-scale public art piece for the City of West Hollywood. He is also co-editing the first complete version of John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse).

Lisa Pearson is the founder Siglio, an independent press and publisher in Los Angeles dedicated to producing books that live at the intersection of art and literature. She is the editor of several books, including The Nancy Book by Joe Brainard (with Ron Padgett), Torture of Women by Nancy Spero, It is Almost That: A Collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists & Writers, and Dorothy Iannone: You Who Read Me With Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends.

Panel Moderator on September 29

Guy Pettit is the founder and executive director of Flying Object, a non-profit art and publishing organization based in Hadley, Massachusetts. Flying Object hosts residencies, readings, lectures, performances, workshops, and artists’ exhibitions. The organization sees itself as a laboratory for creative development, performance, and publication that encourages collaboration between artists and communities.

Michael Kuch: Selected Works from the Double Elephant Press

An exhibition to accompany the 2014 McGrath Lecture in Contemporary Book Arts, October 8, 2014, 4 pm, Neilson Browsing Room.

Michael Kuch began drawing in pen & ink at the age of eleven at home in northern Vermont; one year later he had a one-man show at a local museum. He remained self-taught until he came under Leonard Baskin’s wing at Hampshire College. After college, Kuch worked for more than a decade, until his mentor’s death in 2000, printing etchings for Baskin’s Gehenna Press in Northampton. In 1994, Kuch established his own Double Elephant Press, with the publication of a book of frog etchings, A Plague on Your House. The book contained a tongue and cheek exposition by Kuch on the demise of frogs that was more about human vulnerability. For the past twenty years Kuch has worked with book artisans in the Northampton area, notably the letterpress printer Art Larson, as well as numerous bookbinders. Lately, Kuch has delved into printing his own etched text and made forays into bookbinding.

Lemons Descending, 2000

From Lemons Descending, 2000

The Mortimer Rare Book Room sponsors an annual McGrath Lecture in contemporary book arts, named for Harold P. McGrath (1922-2000), master printer. McGrath was a vital and beloved part of the local book arts community, printing for Leonard Baskin (Gehenna Press), Barry Moser (Pennyroyal Press), and Alan Robinson (Press of the Sea Turtle). McGrath mentored and befriended dozens of aspiring printers, artists, bookbinders, and other practitioners of the book arts. A festschrift book, HPM, was published in 1991 to honor the 50th anniversary of McGrath’s life as a printer. On the occasion of Michael Kuch’s McGrath Lecture, Twenty Years of the Double Elephant Press: Harnessing Influence & Ignorance, a modest exhibition of books from the Double Elephant Press is on view outside the Mortimer Rare Book Room through December 15, 2014.

"Host" from Apocalypse Clocks, 2000

“Host” from Apocalypse Clocks, 2000

from Falling to Earth, 2002

From Falling to Earth, 2002

Complete collections of Kuch's Double Elephant Press are housed in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College, the Library of Congress, and the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, among others. Selected books also are held by The National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as more than sixty other institutional collections. His latest book of etchings, illustrating an unpublished story by Margaret Wise Brown, The Little River, was recently honored with two awards at the UK Fine Press Book Fair in Oxford, England. It was recognized in 2013 with both the Judges' Choice Award and the Parrot Prize for the best-illustrated book printed in the previous two years.

For more information, please see Michael Kuch's website.

See also Past Exhibitions.