Portable Magic: ‘Books’ tell unique tale at Famous Hardware

Portable Magic: ‘Books’ tell unique tale at Famous Hardware

In the vaults of the Smithsonian, the papers of sculptor, writer and earthworks artist Robert Smithson and his wife, sculptor, filmmaker and artist Nancy Holt, measure 19.1 linear feet. Also included, though, is Smithson’s personal library of books, vinyl records and magazines, which comes in at 48.4 linear feet.

That’s what Smithson accumulated in a short 35 years of life. He died in a plane crash on July 20, 1973, while surveying sites in Texas for a proposed earthwork, the Amarillo Ramp.

“Despite his early death, Smithson’s writings and artwork had a major impact on many contemporary artists,” says the Smithsonian’s website, calling him not only a noted sculptor, painter, writer and lecturer but “the pioneer of land and earthworks art,” best known for “Spiral Jetty,” a coil of rock composed in the colored waters of the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

What captured the imagination of Conrad Bakker, an Urbana, Ill., artist, was not Smithson’s art, however, but his books. He wanted to see all of them — some 1,200 — in one place and to “think about books as an extension of one’s mind and their culture.” Since the Smithsonian wouldn’t let him move in, Bakker set out to create his own library of Smithson’s collection — but not in printed paper. His “books” are carved and painted sculptures. And they’re on show right now in the windows of the Famous Hardware building in Springdale.

“Books have always been my favorite form of escape and return — and always connected in some way to my creative life,” says Bakker, who was born in Canada, grew up in Florida and has lived in the Midwest since college. Growing up, he says, “I remember being interested in science fiction and fantasy — anything with invented worlds — but I was also enthralled by encyclopedias as literal containers of knowledge. … I was not really exposed to that much visual art or artists growing up, except what I found in books or comics.”

Bakker started college studying graphic design, but he says he “soon realized that I loved drawing and painting a lot more and changed my degree to the studio arts and rarely looked back. So there weren’t really any vocational side trips, but I did end up having a number of different temporary jobs that provided me with strange art skills including grinding lawnmower decks in an aluminum foundry, drawing and repairing signs for a neon-sign company, and painting CD/album covers for early jazz and country-western music.”

“Untitled Project: Smithson’s Books” is an iteration of “Untitled Project: Robert Smithson Library & Book Club,” Bakker explains. “This project officially started in 2014 as part of an exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, but then it took me five more years to complete the entire list of books.

“And now the storefront windows of the Famous Hardware building in Springdale have given me the opportunity to reimagine this particular collection of titles as a used book store!”

In his project proposal, Bakker described “books arranged on a series of shelves, displayed on tables, and in stacks on the floor for optimal viewing from the sidewalk. The overall installation will be constructed to look something like a used bookstore that is in transition.

“In addition to the books (sculptures), there will be carved and painted sculptures that may include a folding table (or two) for the display of objects and books, a short step ladder or stepping stool, a vintage box (or two) of holiday decorations, and an ambiguous sign/banner in the window advertising a ‘sale’ or ‘coming soon,’” he proposed. “Similar to the titles in Smithson’s library and the history of the Famous Hardware building, the additional sculptures will incorporate a pre-1973 aesthetic, allowing the entire display of objects in these front windows to function like a strange time capsule — a simulation of the past that might be useful for understanding the present and mapping the future.”

“I construct my projects to be accessible on many different levels, perhaps keeping in mind that not everyone who experiences this installation will know about Robert Smithson or understand why his personal library is important,” Bakker muses. “Still, I would like to think that many/most of the viewers experiencing this carved and painted used book store as a visual, theatrical display will be able to access some of the more interesting questions at play.”

Next door, in the building’s other windows, multi-modal public artist Jay Walker’s “Receiving” is described as “a bright, translucent, multilayered mural [with] beams of brightly patterned color radiating from a point high on the windows, streaking toward a pair of waiting outstretched hands.”

“My hope is that Conrad Bakker’s and Jay Walker’s Famous Hardware installations create a little vibrant oasis in downtown Springdale to warm up eyes and imaginations during the cold winter months,” says Dayton Castleman, curator for the Famous Hardware building and director of visual thinking at Verdant Studio.

“I’m excited to see these two artists bring a new perspective and spin to Famous Hardware,” says Olivia Tyson of the Tyson Family Foundation. “It’s always been our goal to inspire curiosity and bring a playfulness to Emma Avenue — Conrad’s vintage bookstore and Jay’s play with color and light do just that, and I’m thrilled they are closing out a year of incredible artists visiting Springdale.”



‘Untitled Project: Smithson’s Books’

& ‘Receiving’

WHEN — Through Feb. 11

WHERE — The windows of the Famous Hardware Building, 113 W. Emma Ave. in Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — downtownspringdale.org

Categories: Galleries