Want to satisfy an urge for voyeurism, exercise your literary judgement, and feel that fine arts electricity–all at once? A room without books is like a body without a soul, said Cicero. Horace Mann thought a house without them was like a house with no windows. At the Jen Bekman Gallery, artist Jane Mount has painted windows into the souls of people like chef/activist Alice Waters, writer/social entrepreneur Dave Eggers, filmmaker Judd Apatow, and vampire siren Stephanie Meyer–by painting small, thought-provoking selections from their book collections. You look and laugh, gaze and wonder–and try to match the reading with the lives, the influences with the work, the selections with the egos. It’s good fun and beautifully, playfully rendered.
Then one is struck by a sad thought that adds poignancy: perhaps the artist is recording for posterity these briefly ubiquitous objects, books, which during the long run of human history had a brief half-millennium in the sun. Then these accomplished people and the books that moved them, drove them, challenged them, and comforted them turn into so many flies in the amber–or rather in the binary code. Many of the world’s great libraries have been lost; the great library of Alexandria famously burned; the tomes of Timbuktu have been recently endangered. The libraries from which Mount takes her samples are modest by comparison, personal–and yet they each present their singular stories by virtue of their tangible, physical being. The text, of course, in all of them will be preserved forever, but the future is likely a place where Herzog on paper pages is a curiosity like the coelacanth, where To Kill a Mockingbird never bounces around in a 10th grader’s backpack, underlined and torn at the edges. But Simon Doonan’s copy of Liberace’s The Things I Love? Thanks to Jane Mount we’ll always have it, in a way. And lots more.