“Blooks” from the Collection of Mindell Dubansky Coming Up at the Grolier Club

“Blook and book cultures have a parallel existence, and blooks provide a revealing side-angle view on the use and meaning of real books.” From safes to spice racks, sewing kits to snake gags, book-shaped objects are everywhere. Why are they so appealing? In a whimsically serious exhibition to open at the Grolier Club on January 28, 2016, Mindell Dubansky makes the case that our emotional connection with books and reading has for centuries driven the production and sale of a surprising range of book-shaped everyday objects, which Ms. Dubansky calls “blooks”—a term she coined to mean “book-look.”

Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t is the first survey exhibition devoted to the history of blooks. The exhibit and its accompanying catalogue presents an internationally and conceptually diverse selection of over 130 blooks from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all drawn from Ms. Dubansky’s large personal collection.

Some of the blooks in the exhibition are striking for their function—the illustrated catalogue includes the Chef-an-ette recipe reference device, book-shaped flasks, a pocket lantern, a cigar box, biscuit tins, an ice-cream mold; and a package for men’s suspenders. Others are notable for their humor, such as exploding and shock books, a gag blook from which a snake pops out or blooks whose interior contains a pun or punchline.

A number of the blooks are touching for their deeply personal meaning. Ms. Dubansky began collecting blooks more than twenty years ago when she discovered, at a flea market, a blook carved from anthracite coal in memory of a Pennsylvania miner who died at the age of twenty-two in 1897. This blook is also included in the exhibit, along with a trench-art box from Rennes, made during World War II, and a love token daguerreotype case titled Friendships Offering.

Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t will fascinate the young and old and inspire book-lovers, designers, artists, collectors and material culture enthusiasts. While the increasing ubiquity of digital books in some ways sidelines the time-tested codex with its paper pages and cardboard covers, this exhibition shows that real books of all kinds have always held a special place in the heart of literate culture, and they will continue to be memorialized.

Mindell Dubansky is head of the Sherman Fairchild Center for Book Conservation at the Thomas J. Watson Library, the main research library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. For over twenty years, she has been collecting and researching the history of book objects in order to illustrate and interpret their scope and shed light on the human relationship to the book as an object.  To learn more Ms. Dubansky’s research on the history of blooks, please see her blog About Blooks (http://aboutblooks.blogspot.com).

Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t is accompanied by a profusely illustrated 96-page paperback catalogue with over 200 full-color illustrations. The catalogue will be available for sale at the Grolier Club during the exhibition as well as through Dubansky’s About Blooks blog, and on Amazon.com.

From 28 January - 12 March 2016. 

FREE PUBLIC PROGRAMS AT THE CLUB

Thursday lunchtime talks with Curator, Mindell Dubansky. Ms. Dubansky will deliver lunchtime exhibition gallery talks every Thursday during the course of the exhibition from 1:00-2:00 PM. (Thursdays, January 28; February 4, 11, 18, 25, March 3, 10)

Panel discussion on book objects. A panel discussion co-sponsored by the Grolier Club and Columbia University Rare Books Library. Tuesday, February 2, 6:00-8:00 PM. Speakers: Mindell Dubansky, collectors Bruce and Lynn Heckman, and Professor, Lynn Festa, English Department, Rutgers University. Reception to follow in 2nd floor gallery. RSVP requiredtombrennan@grolierclub.org.

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