During the years leading up to 1992, many in North and South America debated over how and if the 500 year anniversary of Columbusâ€™ â€śdiscoveryâ€ť of the New World should be celebrated. In the United States, Paramount Pictureâ€™s lavish feature film â€ś1492: the Conquest of Paradiseâ€ť and Philip Glassâ€™s overwrought opera â€śThe Voyage,â€ť are typical in many ways of the large scale, big budget, popular and high cultural productions of the period. These works both acknowledge the centrality of the mythology around Columbus to the collective history and identity of the Americas, while at the same time backing away from any endorsement of him as a hero, demonstrating the clear shift in the historiography of this contested figure. Artists throughout the Americas, working both individually and collectively, also contributed in important ways to this debate. In this exhibition we look back to the years around 1992 and use artists' books as a way of gaining insight into this particular cultural moment.
Artists' books represent an artistic medium that has experienced extraordinary growth in the past 25 years, and these works go far beyond the text-image debate. At once sculpture and text, fine art and performance, artists' books represent an area of extraordinary creativity, artistic accomplishment, and political engagement. Central to this exhibition are three artistâ€™s books. A Letter of Columbus
(1990),a poem by David Citino (d. 2005) based on Columbusâ€™ famous letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of 1493 and illustrated with monoprints by American artist Anthony Rice (1948-); a commemorative edition of Peter Martyrsâ€™ 16th century Decades of the New World
from 1984 with lithographs and etchings by the well-known Ecuadoran modernist Oswaldo GuayasamĂn (1919-1999); and the Codex Espangliensis
(2000), a collaborative work by Mexican American artists Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Enrique Chagoya, and book artist Felicia Rice. This last book combines the codex form of pre-Columbian manuscripts with imagery that draws on sources as diverse as Theodor de Bryâ€™s Grands Voyages (1591-1630) series of travel accounts about the Americas to images of Mickey Mouse and Superman.
Of particular interest here is how these artists use contemporary styles and approaches to reconfigure the history of the Americas, not simply reclaiming it but creating something entirely new. From the lyrical, naĂŻve monotypes of Rice, to the powerful and mesmerizing prints of GuayasamĂn, to the self-consciously post-modern political engagement of Gomez-Pena and Chagoya, artists are helping to redefine and shape the way we think about the discovery of America and the legacy of the Columbus.