Books are a delight for the eye and a challenge for the mind. They enrich our intellectual life and are a pleasure to hold in our hands. They also appeal to our aesthetic sense because of the beauty with which they are designed, the artists who have contributed images, the precious paper on which they are printed, and the typography chosen for the text. Bindings can also be works of art and there are times when one can indeed judge a book by its cover. This exhibit is devoted to showing the imaginative ways in which modern and contemporary artists have expressed their Jewish heritage in their creation of books as art objects.

As objects, books can mean many different things to different people, and artists make use of all the possible shapes and forms that constitute a book. A book may come in the form of a scroll or a codex. It can be made of paper, parchment, or other materials. Though we mostly think of books as being bound, they do not have to be and often are not. In short, books come in many varieties and artists have been drawn to bookmaking because it allows for such a multiplicity of forms of expression. On view in this exhibit are several works that are sculpture or are housed in a piece of sculpture; others are scrolls. Some are portfolios while others are codices; some are bound in leather and others in cloth or some other material. Each artist chose the format they found best carried the visual or textual message they wished to convey. The quality of the printing is also an important factor in book arts production. The printing houses that publish them usually work directly with the artist in order to produce books whose color and clarity are true to the artist's vision.

The exhibit is divided into four parts: Bible, Ritual and Prayer, Literature, and the Hebrew Alphabet. In each of these categories, the artists bring visual commentary to the text. We generally understand commentary to be with words. However, an image may also serve as a lens through which we view text. Beyond the image, another feature that enhances the aesthetic pleasure of viewing the works on display is their magnificent calligraphy and design.

The books on view represent the work of artists who have a deep emotional attachment to the texts they illustrate and who bring this passion in their work. They are from the United States, Israel and Europe and they explore their Jewish heritage in different and very personal ways. Where possible, more than one exemplar of an artist's work is included so that the viewer may have a broader understanding of his/her work. On display one can view the same biblical book illustrated by different artists. The Scroll of Esther, for example, is illustrated by Avner Moriah, Yaakov Agam, and Yael David-Cohen. Each artists brings a very different sensibility to the text. Several artists' works range over more than one section of the exhibit. David Moss is represented by his illustrations for the Song of Songs, his glass sculpture, Rabbi Nachman's Prayer for Peace, and his Alphabet of the Angel Metatron. Lynne Avadenka is represented by her Root Words: an Alphabetic Exploration, her illustrations for Six Poems by the late Israeli poet, Dan Pagis and her designs that accompany the poem, the Plum Colored Regret, the only medieval Hebrew poem attributed to a woman.

We hope that you enjoy the work of the gifted artists represented in this show. Their art has indeed transformed books into pleasure gardens.

The books in this show are from the Yale University Library's Arts of the Book Collection, part of the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library Special Collections.
Exhibit Curator: Nanette Stahl
Arts of the Book Librarian: Jae Rossman
Exhibit Design: Kerri Sancomb
Web Exhibit Designer: David Mandelbaum
View the Exhibit