This is a guest post by Emily Moore, assistant curator of the Aramont Library.
What is a book, exactly? Is it an object, made of paper and ink? Is it a portal to a different reality, an embodiment of memory or a method of communicating across space and time? Can it be art?
“Making the Modern Book: The Aramont Library,” a Jan. 19 symposium in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, will present some of our treasures to ask just that question. We are thrilled to host this event and introduce the collection to everyone. The afternoon and evening events will treat you to an exploration of the Aramont, a stunning modernist collection of 1,700 volumes that is as much about art as it is about books.
Housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, the Aramont is home to first editions, livres d’artistes (books by artists) and exhibition bindings. It features authors such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner and Willa Cather, plus giants of the art world including Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst. Speakers at the symposium will include artists, bookmakers, publishers, scholars and book dealers. In two sessions, they will explore the collection’s holdings while examining the intersection of modernism, art and the book. Afternoon lectures will be followed by an evening display of some of the most impressive books, along with roundtable discussions. This event is free and open to the public.
The Rare Book Division is home to many strange and beautiful objects. It’s a place where you can find Charles Dickens’ walking stick next to antique paper toys and where obscure medieval manuscripts live alongside Harry Houdini’s scrapbooks.
It’s also home to the Aramont collection, a 2020 donation from a private collector who spent decades assembling it. It’s composed of works from the 17th to the 20th centuries, with an emphasis on livres d’artiste. It’s also a stunning collection of bespoke bindings, featuring works by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the Doves Bindery and six bindings by Paul Bonet, the most celebrated binder of the 20th century.
As a collection, the Aramont embodies modernism and experimentation, a spirit captured in one of its most beautiful holdings: Man Ray’s “Revolving Doors.”
The 10 pochoir (stencil) prints that make up “Revolving Doors” were made in 1926, based on a series of paper collages created by Ray during World War I. First exhibited at the Daniel Gallery in New York, Ray designed the pages to hang from a metal structure. Suspended in the gallery, the prints evoked their title, revolving and responding to the breeze and flow of the room. Viewers were encouraged to move the prints themselves – a gesture of co-authorship that expressed Ray’s interest in challenging traditional power structures, both in the art world and society at large.
His use of line and pigment demonstrates his interest in taking the height/length/width of art and putting it into motion, creating what he called the fourth dimension. His sharp transitions of color combined with lines, squiggles and overlapping shapes that respond and reach to each other in space.
These interactions mimic people passing, sounds of the street and other features of city life. This play between color and line, between machine, environment and form, makes Ray’s work dynamic and exuberant – through stripping objects down to their bare essentials, he uncovers their primal vitality and expression.
“Revolving Doors” is one of the many modernist masterpieces held in the Aramont. The collection’s body of livres d’artistes offer Library visitors the unique opportunity to page through original works of art. Its first editions are often inscribed by the authors and still in their original dustjackets. In many ways, the Aramont is a collection that is bigger than the sum of its parts, offering a sensory experience equal to an intellectual one. And now is your chance to see it.