Ed Ruscha, California Grapeskins, from Ed Ruscha: On the Road, 2009, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.
St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, detail, Book of Hours, Rome use, in Latin, Belgium, probably Bruges, ca. 1525-30, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, Melvin R. Seiden Collection, 2011, Photography: Graham S. Haber.
Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue
July 2-September 23, 2012
Morgan Library & Museum is displaying recent acquisitions during select times throughout the year, providing the public with more opportunities to enjoy objects from across the museum’s collections. On view now are three notable works, acquired through gift and purchase, from the Morgan’s departments of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, and Printed Books and Bindings.
Joining the Morgan’s rich holdings of Renaissance Flemish manuscripts are two sixteenth-century Books of Hours. The earlier work, dating to ca. 1500, was illuminated by the Master of Nicholas von Firmian. The miniature on view shows Christ’s Crucifixion witnessed, as was traditional, by the Virgin Mary and the apostle John. Mary Magdalene kneels behind the Virgin, but there’s more to this figure; her distinctive features and contemporaneous headgear suggest that this is also a portrait of the anonymous patron of the manuscript. Her request would not have been unique; individuals who commissioned expensive Books of Hours often had their portrait included in the work. Surrounding the miniature and text on the facing page are fanciful trompe-l’oeil borders, populated by perched and prancing peacocks and other birds, acorns, roses, and acanthus.
The second, slightly later newly-acquired Book of Hours brims with narrative vignettes. The manuscript’s nearly fifty miniatures are surrounded by almost seventy historiated borders, breathing visual life into the lives of the saints addressed in the texts. Within just the two pages on view, we see St. Francis receiving the stigmata; Francis and a fellow monk administering to a leper who shakes a rattle to warn them of his affliction; St. Nicholas giving money to three young women in order to save them from a life of prostitution; and Nicholas freeing three prisoners.
On view for the first time in a New York museum, the Morgan’s third new acquisition brings together two modern masters for a monumental edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, designed by Ed Ruscha. In an unusual career that has spanned more than five decades, Ruscha is widely recognized for having invented the contemporary artist’s book. His photography-based publications —Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) — influenced a generation of artists and left their mark on the history of art and on the history of the book. On the Road (2009) furthers that legacy through its groundbreaking use of the novel as a subject for an artist’s book. In a swerve away from the more commercial aesthetic of his early works, Ruscha has created a beautifully-bound letterpress book, printed by Gerhard Steidl on fine paper, and illustrated with original and found photographs, mounted by hand. The end result is an unforgettable work of art that doubles as a visual lexicon of Kerouac’s post-war American landscape — from its gas stations and large automobiles to the minutiae of isolated car parts and cigarette butts.