- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Books aren't what they used to be, as "Book as Art XIV: Temptations" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts richly demonstrates.

Exhibit curator Krystyna Wasserman, director of the museum's Library and Research Center, explores the allure of food, love, money and other pleasures in this display of 73 visual and literary works that focus on enticements. The works were done by 73 artists from the United States, France, Poland, Belgium and Russia.

What one sees is that these artists create "books" by hand as unique objects or in limited editions and exercise complete control. As such, artists who make books go to the very heart of creativity.

Katherine A. Glover's 3-D "Green Salad" seems to jump from the book support. It simulates the salad a lover once made for her. Romance intervened before the salad could be eaten.

Susan Joy Share creates an offering of imitation carrots set in a cigarette-girls-like container in "Carrots Anyone?" It refers to the glamour of "cigarette babes" who walked movie theater aisles selling Camels.

Sandra Jackman burned and tore sections of her ash-covered book, "On a Darkling Plain," which was created in 2000 but seems to foreshadow the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It's labeled a "unique book," made from "an altered book, painted and collaged paper, radio, altered toy helicopter, photograph, bottle and iron stand."

Miss Jackman portrays people running in all directions as a plane glides threateningly above. The artist named it after Matthew Arnold's 19th-century "Dover Beach," a poem Ms. Wasserman says she finds prophetic of "the universal nightmare."

Temptations are the stuff of life, and Ms. Wasserman humorously presents them as seductive and tragic through episodes from her own life. She recalls in the catalog that her first temptations related to food in her native Poland. She loved bananas, which were costly in 1950s Poland and reserved for her sickly sister. She remembers raiding the banana cupboard when her mother was out and consuming all the bananas. "They were a temptation I couldn't resist," she writes.

The quintessential food temptation, of course, was the apple Eve offered to Adam. Wewer Keohane jokingly defends the fruit in her 3½-inch-by-12 inch apple-shaped book-sculpture, "It Wasn't the Apple," made of carved wood, brass, watercolor and ink-on-paper. Her text boldly proclaims that the problem "wasn't the apple in the tree. It was … the pair on the ground."

Memories of tempting foods propelled painter Ellen Lanyon and poet Diane Wakoski to fabricate "Making a Sacher Torte." The artist's surreal drawings are hilarious in showing a Sacher torte flying over Niagara Falls, tomatoes jumping from a tomato pie, flowers emerging from teacups and birds flying into a Middle Eastern tureen of olives.

The poem is more sober. It refers to what Ms. Wasserman calls "the decadent dessert" made by Miss Wakoski's piano teacher to celebrate her escape from Vienna to the United States during World War II. The poet poignantly contrasts loneliness, disappointments and the bitterness of aging with the sensuous, succulent food.

Ms. Wasserman moves from food to love in the exhibit's "I Love You, I Love You Not …" section. "For my own part, I never stopped being tempted by food, but when I became a teen-ager, this passion was supplanted by a keen interest in the opposite sex. Rather than relating to boys of my own age, I usually developed crushes on impossible targets, such as famous foreign movie stars. … I set my sights on French actor Gerard Philippe."

She notes that as a reporter for her school newspaper in Poland, she interviewed the actor. "In his debonair presence my meager French failed me, but I did get his autographed photo, which I cherish to this day," she writes in the catalog.

Ms. Wasserman chose Peregrine Honig's "Ovubet (26 Girls With Sweet Centers)" to illustrate sexual awakening. Miss Honig drew 26 adolescent girls, with each subject's name shown alphabetically. "My art captures the awkward beauty of girlhood, the residue of shameless sensuality," the artist emphasizes.

Escape is the next temptation for Ms. Wasserman. "When I was in college in Poland, the longing to leave overtook all other temptations. … My move to the United States in 1971 and my subsequent marriage to an American were the fulfillment of all my 'escape' dreams. Not only could I now eat as many bananas as I wished, but I also found love. I felt very fortunate indeed," she continues in the catalog.

Shireen Holman's escape in "The Artist at Home" book is her art. She throws over household chores, grabs pencils and brushes and runs to her studio to make her art. Beatrice Coron's escapes are restaurants and cafes. Her books of paper cutouts silhouette diners, conversationalists and bons vivants, as in "Sushi."

A less happy escape is the story of marital temptation and betrayal told by artist and architect Kumi Korf in "Silk and Secrecy," with text by Emoretta Yang. Miss Yang's fascination with the way secrets influence storytelling and shape human events prompted her tale of a doomed rendezvous between a silk worker and the wife of a wealthy silk merchant.

Miss Korf remembers her silk-farmer great-aunt, whose house was filled with trays of silkworms and the sounds they made eating mulberry leaves. She says the small scrolls bound up by silk threads symbolize secrecy.

The exhibit ends with "Darkness at 8:45, 9:05, and 9:40 a.m.," an obvious reference to September 11 and other tragedies. Ms. Wasserman comments: "I have known dark days filled with rage and desire for revenge, but, thankfully, the urge to kill and destroy, explored here by Sandra Jackman's chilling work, 'On the Darkling Plain,' has not been part of my experience. Miss Jackman's artist's book is a painful reminder that the human race can be lured and led by powerful maniacs with deadly consequences."

Ms. Wasserman completes the temptation story in the catalog with "Protect Me From What I Want." The curator says we face temptations every day. She ends with a comforting note: "It is consoling to realize that temptation is not a sin, but rather a condition of choice; submission or resistance is up to all of us. The ability to choose and choose freely is the wonder of our humanity."

The exhibit illustrates this in handsome and instructive ways. Although the museum's library provides an intimate, almost cozy, place for the show, the exhibit's complexity of ideas and excellence of works call for a larger, more gallerylike space.

On the scale of 10 for challenging exhibitions mounted in Washington during the past few years, "Temptations" rates a 10+. Fortunately, there will be many more "Book as Art" shows to come.


WHAT: "Book as Art XIV: Temptations"

WHERE: Library and Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 5

TICKETS: Adults, $8; seniors (60 and older), $6; students with ID, $6; young people 18 and younger, free

PHONE: 202/783-5000


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