Behind the scenes at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art: Simon Blattner on Mexican books
The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art's newest exhibit, “Libros de Artista,” is a page-turning display – literally – of art crafted with books. The exhibition, which opened last weekend and runs through April 15, features 40 contemporary limited-edition books, with works newly created by Latin American artists, alongside pieces from the Latin American & Iberian Collections at Stanford University Libraries.
The exhibit, curated by former SVMA board member Simon Blattner, expresses a wide range of sensibilities – from the artistic to the political to the personal. Topics explored include the relationship between gender and power, immigration, censorship, border control politics and other hot-button themes relevant to lives both north and south of the border.
We asked Blattner, a real-estate investor and retired CEO of Rittenhouse Paper Company, to tell us about the exhibit – chapter and verse.
Have you always been passionate about Latin American book art?
I've always been interested in artist books. I am a handmade papermaker and I have a studio where I make and print paper. I started thinking about doing something with artist books and I wanted to see if I could conceive of an exhibit that connected the community here with the artist books being made in Mexico. The Mexican artist books scene is very robust and exciting and there is a renaissance of sorts going on with artist books there. Guadalajara, for example, hosts a huge trade show for books and for artists each year. There is a centuries-old tradition of book-making in Mexico, beginning long before Cortez came to the shore (when) the Mayans were making books of their own.
How did you connect with SVMA?
I have been involved with the museum for maybe 17 years. When Linda Cano came on board as the new executive director, she and I got talking about my interest in curating a show of artist books.
Have you curated a show before?
I have curated three shows at the Museum, including the “Rebound” show in 2012. Curating a show is really hard work, but I found this show to be fascinating. It is really interesting to consider what the artists were thinking about as they made these books. Every page means something to them.
How long has this show been in the works?
We started more than two years ago, looking in Mexico for these books. I used to have a paper business in Mexico from 1985 to 2000 and I called my Mexican business partner to ask if he could help me connect with these artists. He and his wife came on board as our translators. We went to Oaxaca and found a bunch of artists doing these books and each time we visited a studio, we would ask who else was doing this kind of work and one led to another. We came home to attend the Codex Book Fair in Richmond and all of a sudden we had enough material to have a book show.
What is it you love about paper?
I was in the commodity paper business for more than 35 years, unrelated to art, but we were making paper every day. I like making things. We had paper plants all over the place. I was visiting paper mills and touching paper and even though it was machine-made paper it was beautiful. Paper as an invention is as big an invention as the lightbulb. If we didn't have paper, it wouldn't matter what Gutenberg did, we wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. I love the finish and the tactileness and the way it works and feels. It's a great sensation to be around paper.
What are your favorite pieces in the show?
There are so many outstanding pieces. The star of the show is Antonio Guerra Gonzalez. He has five of the 40 pieces and his big piece is “Librario.”
What made this particular show rewarding for you?
My wife Kimberly and I are very involved with La Luz and we loved the idea of getting a part of this community who has never been in this museum to come see the show. You can't live your life without art.
SVMA is located at 551 Broadway. The show runs through April 15, and the museum is open Wednesday through Sunday.