Reading Rainfall

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If you really love a book, then let it go.

It might return to you, not as a mere companion but as a distinguished citizen of the world. In the bargain, you could be an artist of international stature yourself, at least by a certain measure.

That's the promise of a fascinating partnership between the Indianapolis Museum of Art and renowned British sculptor Richard Wentworth.

The upcoming project entails a humongous array of books -- used books -- to be suspended from the ceiling of the IMA's Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion. They're not saying how many books. Visitors will be invited to guess their own counts, with the closest-to-actual figure winning a prize. Visitors also may vote for their favorite genres, choosing among five categories, and share their observations via Twitter at #IMAWentworth.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

For weeks now, and continuing through next Monday, Sept. 8, the museum and the Indy Reads bookstore at 911 Mass Ave have been gathering donated books from the general public at special boxes and storing them by the hundreds for the artist to sift through when he arrives early in the month to begin work on an exhibit that opens Sept. 25.

Wentworth will join Tricia Paik, the IMA's curator for contemporary art, in a discussion of the extraordinary venture -- Richard Wentworth: False Ceiling -- at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in the museum's Toby Theater.

Curator of the upcoming installation, Tricia Paik stands before a book donation box. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • Curator of the upcoming installation, Tricia Paik stands before a book donation box.

There, Wentworth will meet folks who "are presently anonymous to me and will befriend me" by way of sharing "a sense of what I would call co-ownership," in his words. In less subtle words, this event could be described as the largest collaborative venture in local art history, at least by population. I plan to join the crowd myself, which means a tough decision. Do I give up John Brown's Body, the great American epic poem? Slaughterhouse-Five, as if nobody else will think of that one? Rumi's Big Red Book of poetry, because it would be so easy to spot up there? Like lots of fellow Hoosier bibliophiles, I have my work cut out for me.

The hard part, of course, belongs to Wentworth, along with a legion of helpers from Herron School of Art, to be supervised by Wentworth's son Felix and friend Joby Williamson. The undertaking will be as laborious and complex as the final product will be dazzling, judging by a permanent installation of the same type that Wentworth rendered for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art.

Paik was swept away by that phenomenon when she toured the Istanbul facility in 2012, two years before coming to IMA from the St. Louis Art Museum. She elected to make Richard Wentworth: False Ceilings her first commissioned project here. The marriage of visual impact and conceptual depth -- along with the playful hijacking of our normal perceptions -- makes Wentworth, at 67, a bellwether of the New British Sculpture movement, where the everyday is ever-challenged.

Permanent installation of Richard Wentworth, False Ceiling, 2005, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art Collection, Eczacıbaşı Group Donation. - PHOTOGRAPH BY MURAT GERMEN
  • Photograph by Murat Germen
  • Permanent installation of Richard Wentworth, False Ceiling, 2005, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art Collection, Eczacıbaşı Group Donation.

"This shows that art not only can be a source of aesthetic joy," Paik says, "but also a tool for a broader conversation about what knowledge means."

For Wentworth, the book and his love for it interweave and entwine the look, feel and thought of the sculpture as well as the thoughts and feelings of the looker. The looker as co-artist, the looker as intimate provider of the materials.

Which brings us to how he'll select his winners.

"Arbitrariness is quite important," he tells me in a phone conversation from his home in London. "The high meets the low, the celebrated meets the relatively anonymous, the technical meets the simple, the excellent meets the horrible book done just for the market. All of them have had a life. We are celebrating their human agency, not necessarily their production. All have been read, or at least possessed by someone who should have read them."

The vaulting, airy entryway to the IMA intrigues Wentworth. It's a "demanding" space, he says, and one that his books will occupy on two levels, differentiating the experience of viewers from floor level and from the mezzanine. Hundreds and hundreds of books, altogether requiring "many craft skills. It needs to feel right, just like a piece of writing."

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has received hundreds of books, but will continue taking donations for the possible inclusion in the exhibit through Sept. 8th. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • The Indianapolis Museum of Art has received hundreds of books, but will continue taking donations for the possible inclusion in the exhibit through Sept. 8th.

Exhausting to think about, I submitted. He laughs, conceding that he solicits more supplemental muscle than he did when he was younger but asserting that his feeling of pride and "privilege" is not a function of obvious toil.

"All art contains the Pyramids. So much work can go into a millisecond. What I love about the book is that they feel effortless when you view them. They're so gorgeous."

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