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'Readers’ Art' show attracts big following for tiny books

"A Testament to American Beef" by Amanda D'Amico
Courtesy of the artist and Susan Hensel Gallery
"A Testament to American Beef" by Amanda D'Amico

Whether you're a bibliophile or fan of fine craft, the tiny marvels on display for Susan Hensel Gallery's ninth-annual "Readers' Art: Small, Smaller, Smallest" merit a visit. With around 80 pieces from 20 artists hailing from across the country, this year's showcase offers a diversity of offbeat artist books.

This annual exhibition in Minneapolis has gained momentum in the national book-arts community over the years, and it shows. "I receive hundreds of queries about 'Readers' Art' at this point, from artists in this country and from a number living abroad," Hensel says. "There simply aren't many places for this sort of work. It makes for a lot of administrative headaches," she laughs, "but the resulting exhibition is really satisfying."

Among the wee volumes on view, be sure to look for Amanda D'Amico's subversive little creations, all of which are clever and biting (my favorite: D'Amico's "Testament to American Beef"). Also, seek out the marvelous "Miniature History of Buttons" by Maryann Riker, Ann Alexander's "The BIG Picture of One Gallon of Gas," and Edwin Yager's exquisitely illustrated 'zine, "Iconometer." (Click here to see the full online catalog of work in this year's show.)

"I was surprised by the political edge I found in this year's submissions," Hensel says, "but I was also impressed by the degree of optimism and hope. These pieces reveal a certain activism, for sure, but they're not bleak diatribes."

Here's my suggestion: When you go, don't keep your distance. Pick up a pair of white cotton gloves from the basket at the front door so you can actually touch the books on display. Plan to linger a bit. Don't be afraid to interact with these little books — turn the tiny pages, lift the flaps, touch the textures on their pages.

And if you fall in love with something (which you likely will), even in this economy you can likely afford to make it yours. Many of the pieces on view can be had for under $50.

"Readers' Art 9: Small, Smaller, Smallest" — a curated national exhibition of artist books — will be on view at Susan Hensel Gallery in Minneapolis until April 15. The gallery is open to the public Mondays or by appointment. (It's wise to call before you go: 612-722-2324.)

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