Art Gallery showcases literature in a new way

The Oakland University Art Gallery’s newest exhibit combines art and literature in a way the gallery has never done before. In an age where physical books are considered obsolete, the exhibit showcases some of the most interesting and obscure books available to the campus community.

Director of Cinema Studies Andrea Eis is responsible for curating the collection and found inspiration in the Kresge Library. Specifically, Eis was inspired by “The Sophia Pamphlets,” a series of pamphlets from the 1700–1800s arguing for women’s rights.

“The pamphlets are part of the 900 books in the Hicks collection of writings by and about women from the 17th to the 19th century,” Eis said.

“Encountering the Rare Book” is the gallery’s first exhibit to focus solely on literature. It also displays the wide variety of books in Kresge Library. In order to choose which books to showcase, Eis asked faculty members to explore the special collections area of the library and choose a book they found significant.

“They could choose something from their academic field, or something that unexpectedly fascinated them or something of personal significance,” Eis said in regard to the selection process. “With their choices, the 21 faculty who participated broadened and enriched the range of books that are in the exhibition.”

Stephen Goody, director of the OU Art Gallery and professor of art, has been curating collections for the gallery since 2010. Previous exhibits—like “Employees Only,” which showcased art from OU faculty, and “Cynthia Greig: Subverting the (Un)conventional”—have showcased paintings and photography as opposed to literature.

“I’ve worked with Professor Eis before and she always brings surprising new perspectives on how we can experience an exhibition,” Goody said. “A book tends to be a small object, and if it’s ancient and rare, people coming to the show can’t hold or touch the books, but she finds a way to make the experience visceral and palpable.”

Each book chosen was accompanied with a description of why the faculty member selected it. The books ranged from commentaries on social inequalities to a first edition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” complete with illustrations.

“I enjoy working with Eis because she has a way of involving a diverse group of faculty from all sorts of different fields and making her exhibits truly interdisciplinary,” Goody said.

Eis worked to make the exhibit as interactive as possible, despite viewers not being able to touch any of the books.

“I wanted to explore the physical nature of these books as much as possible,” she said. “I used aesthetic approaches to expand the experience.”

These aesthetic approaches included photographs of the books and their contents printed onto fabric, a film exploration of the rare book vault and iPads with interactive presentations. Eis also added a decorative ceiling-high stack of deaccessioned books.

“With a bit of irony, it represents the continuing physical power of books,” Eis said when referencing the tower.

The exhibit will be held in the Oakland University Art Gallery until Oct. 7. The art gallery is located at 208 Wilson Hall and is open from September to May. All exhibits are free of charge.