05/06/09 – 26/06/09
View artists work
They are more than “oversized” in the librarian’s sense. Across a gallery space, these swelling folio volumes appear a little nearer to you than they really are. Or, more to the point, you to them. Though nothing like photorealist close-ups, they make an exorbitant claim on the eye, oddly intimate. Rather than receding — as they would in an illusionist bookshelf — they loom large. And by their titles alone, even without releasing a given artist’s reproduced image, they speak volumes.
Naftali Rakuzin remembers the first book cover he designed as a child, for Gulliver’s Travels. Retaining something of this innocence and wonder, his later homages still convey a Lilliputian’s awe at the towering influence of the tradition he so luxuriantly revisits — and enlarges upon. Not illusions at all, his paintings offer optical allusions to the painterly archive they expand by recapitulating — in all its cultural heft, shelf by shelf. The art of the book seems diffused before our eyes to the received Book of Art.
These are not a painter’s typical reflexive still lifes: not atelier scenes, with brushes and palettes heaped on a workbench, half-finished canvases leaning against the wall. Rakuzin paints instead the source rather than the instruments of his art, but already made his own in those lateral cadences of color that orchestrate his compositions. The history of art comes before us bound for visual uptake and variation. Reversing the miniaturizing effect of photography that explained for André Malraux the origin of art history as we know it, Rakuzin’s books, beyond their inscribed titles, disclose at times an amplified catalogue image as if — by the provocations of scale alone — it were straining to break out into its original proportions, or at least its native texture, if only through another artist’s intervening stroke and pigment. Reversing as well the historical trajectory defined by Walter Benjamin, the effect is to demediate “mechanical reproduction” in a return to “aura.”
Garrett Stewart - University of Iowa
Author of The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text (2006)