1.17 / Review

Lending Library

By Elyse Mallouk June 16, 2010

Adobe Books is a jumbled stockpile made up of thousands of somewhat sorted haphazardly stacked volumes. Each book appears more brilliant when considered in combination with another text, picked up and put back down beside it by a fellow reader and re-arranger. Some of the bookstore’s organizational methods are deliberate: Puzzles, Games and Magic; Bibles; Bread; Animal Behavior; Rabbits; Rats; Bees; Butterflies; Notorious Spies; Joseph Campbell; Witchcraft. Then, there are the stacks other searchers have made: Ted Williams is misplaced, sitting off-kilter on top of Botanical Home Remedies. Under the original French edition of Waiting for Godot is a handbook for training golden retrievers. These nonsensical arrangements are inexhaustibly rewarding. There are endless opportunities to build stopgap narratives by filling in the blanks between neighboring titles.

The same kind of subjective, collaborative stacking carries over into the Backroom Gallery. “Lending Library,” an exhibition curated by local curator and writer Dena Beard, offers an edited glimpse at the research that informs the work of seven Bay Area artists: Amy Franceschini, Colter Jacobsen, Kevin Killian, Tom Marioni, Emily Prince, Stephanie Syjuco, and Christine Wong Yap. Each artist is represented by a small collection of documents and objects, which echo the absent artworks they inspired.

Snippets of workspaces, sketchbooks, and libraries are arranged around the walls in small sections separated by discrete bookshelves, each a few feet across. The result is an eclectic, cleaned-up studio—an idealized place for making, where natural light bounces off white walls.

Hanging on a pegged tool board are sixteen sheets of two-hole punched paper: two pages contextualize the exhibition with bios and an overview, and the other fourteen are photocopied from the artists’ reference books, sketchbooks, and published material. On one side of the pegboard is a table with a bench, and a vacant record player. On the other is a shelf offering empty brown folders in which viewers are invited to build compilations from the copies. Wall text above the folders reads, “Browse the bookshelves and peruse at the research desk. Please do not take any of the artists’ materials out of the gallery.”

The show treads a line between archive and artwork; between documentation and suggestion; part portrait, part invitation. It is not an encyclopedic picture of any of the seven artists, of their finished products, or of their processes. The collections are more like clues or abstracts than informative wholes. The show assumes that viewers have some knowledge of the absent artwork. In order for them to infer how the materials on display have been alchemized into art practices, viewers have to be somewhat familiar with what these artists have produced. By opting not to show finished artworks, Beard avoids presenting a 1:1, research to production, narrative. This choice happily diffuses the expectation that these collections of books will provide any conclusive information about the practices they have informed.

"Lending Library," 2010; installation view, Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. Courtesy of the Artists, Dena Beard, and Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, San Francisco.

"Lending Library," 2010; installation view, Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. Courtesy of the Artists, Dena Beard, and Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, San Francisco.

The reference materials become open ends rather than puzzle pieces with a prefigured solution. Yet what makes these particular collections worthy of aggregation and careful redisplay is their connection with the thoughtful art practices for which they serve as stand-ins.

Some of the artists’ collections seem open to rifling, others are stacked or organized carefully, making it difficult to thumb through the bottom book without disturbing the whole pile. Vinyl records lean against the wall, but there is no explicit invitation to pull them out and play them, aside from the empty turntable across the room. The line that often exists between viewers and artworks, the discrepancy between the invitation to touch and the worry that one might cross a boundary, is present here. Even though there is an invitation to look, coming across a correspondence or a journal entry offers the illicit pleasure of reading something that feels out of bounds. Some pieces of the archive are more gratifying to open, because they are closer to artworks themselves. Colter Jacobsen’s sketchbooks contain ideas not only collected, but also transformed into inside jokes, writings, and drawings that are nonetheless accessible, as if they were intended for a public all along. A secret pink post-it is stuck under the shelf; it reads Bob Dylan.

Back in Adobe’s bookshelves are more curated associations, pairs of books deliberately or accidentally placed into relationship by someone else’s selective attention: 

Heat for Advanced Students

Arctic Dreams

Golf Between Two Wars

Advanced Sex Tips for Girls [1]

The Merchant of Venice

The Gay Metropolis


Everything that Linguists Have Always Wanted to Know about Logic *

                                                                  *but were afraid to ask

When one book’s wealth of references momentarily spills over to an adjacent volume, a strange sort of transitory production takes place. The resulting new work is an immaterial collaboration between the text of two books, remade by each passing sifter and collector who translates their mixed-up proximity.

“Lending Library” proposes sifting and collecting as a form of artmaking. It asks that a viewer compile his or her own set of reference materials for future thought and/or production. The most exciting way to do this might not involve using one of the free folders provided, pulling sheets from a set of thoughts already in process. For me, it was poring over the stacks just outside the gallery, with the renewed sense that there are things to be made out of what’s hidden there. The connections on display in “Lending Library” draw attention to the collaborations already taking place on the shelves.


“Lending Library” is on view at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery in San Francisco through July 2, 2010.


[1] Both are located in a section labeled “Investment/Stock Market.”

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