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UNCOVERED: The Artists of Arion Press

Prominent Artists on Display for a Limited Time at Arion's Revitalized Gallery

By Tamsin Smith

“Books hide as much as they reveal,” declares the curator’s statement for the inaugural exhibition in the renewed gallery program of Arion Press. Since 1974, Arion Press has published over 100 limited-edition artist books, each conceptually unique and printed from metal type cast at its historic facility in the Presidio National Park. “UNCOVERED: The Artists of Arion Press” showcases over 35 works across four decades of Arion’s collaborations with luminaries from Jasper Johns to Kara Walker. 

The exhibit invites visitors to gaze beyond the covers of Arion books, to eavesdrop on the creative dialogue between major artists and major texts. Much of the artwork has never been seen or displayed beyond the pages of Arion’s one-of-a-kind, handmade books. Kara Walker first-ever lithographs depicting iconic scenes from “Porgy & Bess” sit beside Julie Mehretu’s lyric explorations of the “Poetry of Sappho.” Signed proofs by Robert Motherwell register the artist’s epic response to James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” the novel that was not only his favorite book, but the text he credited with awakening his voice as a modernist. Other works on display include Wayne Thiebaud’s color lithographs and ink drawings for “The Physiology of Taste,” Martin Puryear’s stunning interpretation of Jean Toomer’s experimental novel “Cane,” and a Jasper Johns frontispiece for “Poems by Wallace Stevens,” which became the first image from his widely exhibited series “The Seasons.” 

Julie Mehretu, “Sapphic Strophe 1” signed hand-colored print for Arion's "Poetry of Sappho (2011)."

“Arion’s legacy presents the visceral joy of the book, in a provocative pairing of literature and poetry, with great artists showing us that the mark of the human hand is perennial, especially in the turbulent sea of social critique,” says artist and filmmaker Kim Anno, who serves as a member of the Arion Press Advisory Council.

One of the most distinctive projects highlighted in the exhibit is a 1984 edition of John Ashbery’s seminal poem “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” in which the text radiates out from the center of forty unbound circular handmade sheets. The entire project is housed in a stainless steel case mimicking a film canister. The case has a convex mirror fixed at its center and includes a vinyl recording of the poet reading the text, as well as original prints from eight artists including Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Alex Katz, R.B. Kitaj, and Jim Dine. 

This is the first show presented by Arion’s curator-in-residence Tamsin Smith, whose own work spans the literary and visual arts as a poet and painter. Artistic collaboration has always been central to Arion’s mission, and the revitalized gallery will focus on expanding engagements with local artists and the broader community through regular, relevant, and compelling projects. Smith explains, “The need for a dynamic cultural hub to support cross-disciplinary conversation is all the more important at this moment of rising rent costs and social dislocation.”  

Future exhibitions will explore novel ways in which literature and the arts act as bridges to repair, redress, and reinvigorate community through the creative act. Upcoming projects in the Arion Gallery include a poetry reading in March 2022 to mark the 15th anniversary of the bombing of Baghdad’s historic Al Mutanabbi Street, and an exhibition of new work by Bay Area artists inspired by Arion’s forthcoming edition of Pablo Neruda’s “100 Love Sonnets.”

Additional gatherings to celebrate Arion’s latest books are also on the horizon. Publishing projects currently underway at the Press include an original story by Margaret Atwood titled “Morte de Smudgie” with artwork by Audrey Niffenegger and an edition of Patti Smith’s memoir “Woolgathering” with photograms by Christian Marclay.

UNCOVERED will remain on display until November 5 at Arion Press (1802 Hays Street). The gallery is open 9-5, M-F. Call 415-668-2542 to schedule an appointment or private viewing.

Main Image: Kara Walker's Porgy & Bess

 



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