Public art is often commissioned for public libraries. Large library buildings offer the urban space to make a big statement at the entrance or in the foyer. The art has to live up to the expectations of the city – they are very prestigious and very visible. How are artists, and those who commission them, using the opportunity to convey library messages and values? Apart from the rather literal convention of using the book itself as the sculptural object, how are artists interpreting the library experience and our reading lives?
How are artists, and those who commission them, using the opportunity to convey library messages and values? Apart from the rather literal convention of using the book itself as the sculptural object, how are artists interpreting the library experience and our reading lives?
Some work is beautiful, but sends an unhelpful message (left). Some hints at the awful weight of knowledge contained within the building (centre). Or invites the visitor to get absorbed in a book (right).
Artists often lean on text instead of interpreting the idea of reading – and this approach can look like a set of stern instructions rather than an invitation. Other artists have used words in more resonant and thoughtful ways.
And embodied poetry as the foundation on which to build a new interpretation of the power of words. (left). Some artists use the opportunity of being sited with a library to explore the imaginative experience and the human condition through sculpture rather than through text (right).
Some artists use the opportunity of scale to make arresting jokes about reading (left). Or about the knowledge stored in libraries put into action (right).
And some public art in front of libraries is truly eccentric, stretching the link with reading and knowledge until it snaps (left). Conventional statuary placed within the library shelves can look incongruous, abstruse and be very hard to dust. (centre). Some art installations deter browsing, rather than encouraging it (right).
Some library sculpture is instantly loveable and whimsical (left). There is a strong convention at work in many commissions employing the metaphor of the library as a portal (right and below).
But the image that seems to provide most inspiration to artists who make work for library spaces is the tree of knowledge .
Libraries are the place where ideas begin. Many of the best ideas, artistic leaps, inventions and breakthroughs have been inspired by the contents of public libraries and yet, like many of the vital contributions that the library makes to the wider community, the effect is unseen so how could that link be made visible?
Amazon’s customer reviews and suggestions are widely used and can be quite helpful if taken in balance. However, because of the way people often make book purchases, the adjacencies (people who bought this also bought….) don’t always reflect personal reading tastes.
"Mechanical books should look like ordinary books. Their success is to be measured by the ingenuity with which their bookish format conceals unbookish characteristics." - Iona and Peter Opie
Library book trolleys - book carts in the US – come in a variety of styles but the majority do one thing but nothing much else. Great for moving a load of books from A to B – they are large, cumbersome and inflexible when not in use.
Readers often say that they love the scent of old books. "A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness” is how an international team of chemists describes the particular smell of decaying tomes.
Libraries of one kind and another seem to be popping up everywhere. They are creative reactions to library closures and lack of funds and also new routes and locations for book sharing.