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Pop-Up Exhibit at Alexander Library Celebrates Life of New Jersey Book Artist Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson

August 17, 2018
Artists' books in glass case

Special Collections and University Archives has installed a small pop-up exhibition in the lobby of the Alexander Library titled Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson: Thirty Years of Artists’ Books. Photo: Michael Joseph.

Special Collections and University Archives has installed a small pop-up exhibition in the lobby of the Alexander Library titled Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson: Thirty Years of Artists’ Books. The exhibition contains six of the 13 books the library owns, dating back to 1987, and a painting borrowed from a private collection.

The artist, who passed away in early August, was a painter, sculptor, printmaker, video artist, and book artist. One can find examples of her work at MoMA, NYPL, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as on YouTube and Facebook.

For sixteen years, she was also the artist-in-residence at the New Jersey Book Arts Symposium (NJBAS), a position that was invented expressly for her, from which illness forced her to retire in 2017. The pencil and pen sketches she produced during her first residency for The New Jersey International Book Arts Symposium in 2001 attest to her skill as a caricaturist and her binding curiosity about people. One can see the same whimsical and somewhat dangerous touch in the hundreds of photographs she took between 2002 and 2016, available on the New Jersey Book Arts website. Wilson seems at times to have used “documentarian” as a pretext, to record with a particular relish the moments of awkwardness, anger, shyness, but also clarity, warmth, joy, and serendipity that constituted the social component of meetings. (See for example her photographs for Styles of Collecting, Styles of the Book.)

In her more reflective work, Wilson was a restless innovator and lifelong improviser: her artists’ books typify the elasticity of the medium in their adaptation of a wide variety of techniques – photography, drawing, etching, collage, painting, and woodworking, to name a few. What is most characteristic of her work is her use of irony and subversive, self-effacing wit to investigate the darker experiences and emotions – abuse, loss, failure, heartbreak, disappointment.

A prolific video artist, Wilson produced a body of work available on YouTube that includes hard-earned observations on painting, book arts and book artists. These typically have overly modest titles that belie their value and the seriousness of their commitment to art, such as “How to Start an Artists’ Book with No Ideas,” “How to Amuse Yourself With Nothing Much to Show for It,” “Old, Fat and Voting for Bernie,” “Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson Tells How to Alleviate Depression with a Cucumber Sandwich,” and “Artist Marcia Sandmeyer Wilson Sings in Order to Succeed You Have to Fail.” All of these can be seen on her YouTube channel.

Regardless of her medium, Wilson was a natural story-teller, and the theme to which her work continually returns is the pleasure of creating art, and art’s ability to draw people together, to transcend isolation and loss.

For more, view Wilson’s impromptu talk at the NJBAS in 2016.