A Brief History of Pop-Up Books

RARE’s current exhibition, “Sjoerd Hofstra with Karen O'hearn: Books in Motion,” presents a wealth of the pair’s interactive and high-concept takes on the pop-up book. The complexity of the books themselves is a testament to the richness of a technique that is now primarily used for children’s books, but has enjoyed a varied history spanning religion and high-art.


Commonly conceived of as a visual treat for children, the pop-up book—originally known as a “movable book”—was actually first employed by Benedictine monk Matthew Paris circa 1250 to track holy days. (Paris used a “volvelle,” or pivoting wheel.) In circa 1305, poet and mystic Ramon Llull introduced volvelles to the West as a means of divining spiritual answers, in the fashion of a multi-layered Ouija board.

(left: A volvelle)

 


This technique was only applied to children’s books in the mid-18th century, when bookseller Robert Sayer created a “lift the flap” book for children about a comic ne’er-do-well named Harlequin in 1765.

(left: A Cherokee Chief in London, 1772)

 

 

 

 

The commercial explosion of children’s books came in 1929 with the first Daily Express Children’s Annual, published by S. Louis Giraud. Priced modestly, and produced inexpensively, Giraud pushed pop-ups—which he called “living models”—to a new and mass audience.

(left: Daily Express Children's Annual No. 2 , 1930)

 

 

The pleasantly deceptive simplicity of the pop-up book was appropriated in the later twentieth century for high-art by figures like Andy Warhol, whose Index Book featured tear-out inserts of a cardboard can of tomato paste (at left) and an inflatable balloon; one can see a similar sense of childish glee in the removable sticker on his famous design for the Velvet Underground’s debut album cover. Tony Award-winning production designer Peter Larkin has also intermittently released selections of a massive pop-up history of burlesque, twenty years in the making, called Panties Inferno. (The book remains unrealized, his vision perhaps being either too complex—or expensive—for publishers.)


Hofstra and O’hearn’s designs are of a different stripe, entirely. Like a Frank O’Hara poem come to life, they examine whimsical and odd negative spaces in city scenes, as well as enigmatic structures built upon familiar 2-D landscapes (at left, a spread from All Meadows).They probe the representation of public space, rearranging familiar scenes and urban locales with often beguiling results. The exhibit reveals a full history of the pair’s previous collaborative output, in addition to two new pop-ups created specifically for RARE and a series of nine framed, moveable wall pieces.

“Sjoerd Hofstra with Karen O'hearn: Books in Motion” is now on view at RARE through January 30, 2016.

Posted in Art, Design on January 21 2016

Opening Reception for “Sjoerd Hofstra and Karen O’hearn: Books in Motion”

A few photographs from the event...!

"Sjoerd Hofstra with Karen O'hearn: Books in Motion" is now on display through Saturday, January 30, 2016. For more information on the work and artists, please visit the exhibition page

Posted in Art, Design on January 15 2016

Sjoerd Hofstra with Karen O’hearn: Books in Motion

Now open through January 30, 2016, "Sjoerd Hofstra with Karen O'hearn: Books in Motion," presents the beautiful and ingenious pop-up books of Brooklyn-based artists, Sjoerd Hofstra and Karen O'hearn.

For more information, please visit the exhibition page

Posted in Art, Design on January 14 2016

Special Holiday Pop-up: Daniel Gibbings Jewelry

RARE is pleased to host a special holiday pop-up featuring the stunning hand-crafted jewelry of Daniel Gibbings, known for its sophistication, boldness, and authenticity. 

 

The Daniel Gibbings Jewelry pop-up will be on display at RARE through Friday, December 18, 2015. For more information about the show, click here

Posted in Art, Design on December 11 2015

Panel Discussion: The Artists and Writers of National Lampoon, Moderated by Steven Heller

On Wednesday, November 18th, artist Rick Meyerowitz was joined by two of his colleagues from National Lampoon—Tony Hendra and Peter Kleinman—for a discussion about the magazine's history, personalities, and lasting cultural impact. It was moderated by acclaimed art director, author, 
teacher, and design historian Steven Heller.

This event was held in conjunction with RARE's current exhibition, "Rick Meyerowitz's National Lampoon." For more information about the work on display, please visit the exhibition page

Posted in Art, Design on November 21 2015

Rick Meyerowitz


RARE’s current exhibition, “Rick Meyerowitz’s National Lampoon,” showcases over 20 years artwork by one of the seminal humor magazine’s most prolific illustrators. Meyerowitz (pictured at left) was was born in 1943 in the Bronx, New York; attended Boston University to study fine arts and literature; and started working with the founders of the Lampoon in the autumn of 1969, continuing through until 1991. As such, he was an integral figure in the influential humor magazine’s genesis and development, and his "no sacred cows" attitude toward political or social causes, as well as his Bosch-like style of sprawling tableaux and—at-times—grotesque detail, married well with the Lampoon’s irreverent attitude. His effortless bridging of high- and low-brow culture was irresistible to the ambivalent youth of the Vietnam generation, and its appeal was perhaps best summed up in a comment by George Plimpton: “He does illustrations only a sourpuss wouldn’t love.”



“National Lampoon’s Inferno (Rick Visits Hell)”


In 1971, while entertaining two Lampoon founders—Henry Beard and Doug Kenney—at his New York loft, Meyerowitz devised one of the magazine’s most enduring images: “Mona Gorilla.” Now on view at RARE, the piece transforms Da Vinci’s beguiling womanly visage with that of a bemused ape’s face: an absurd and defacing gesture similar to Duchamp’s L.H.O.Q.Q., yet with the joyful silliness that marks Meyerowitz’s work. The piece was called by one critic “the best Mona Lisa parody ever,” while by another, “one of the enduring icons of American humor,” and the Wall Street Journal declared it “the most celebrated American magazine illustration of the 1970s.”


"Mona Gorilla"
 

Pieces Meyerowitz originally created for Lampoon articles sometimes spun off into other avenues, most notably his book Dodosaurs: The Dinosaurs That Didn’t Make It, which first debuted in the Lampoon in 1972, then became a formal book with text by Henry Beard in 1984. Inspired by the observation that dinosaurs were “so weirdly constructed, who would notice a few changes here and there,” the Dodosaurs present a range of evolutionary quirks and surreal physiology, such as the “Titanicasaurus Rex,” which bears the look of a cruise-liner sinking, and the majestic “Blunderdon” who has another tail instead of a head.


Sketchbook for Dodosaurs (Signed copies of the published book are available at the gallery.)

 

Meyerowitz’s collaborations with the Lampoon extended to projects outside the magazine proper, such as the poster for the Lampoon’s first film, the blockbuster comedy Animal House. His design’s raucous, effusive energy reflected the manic activity of the film itself, and proved integral to the film’s identity. John Belushi, upon seeing the poster, reportedly said to Meyerowitz, “You nailed it maaaannn. You really fuckin’ nailed it.”


Original artwork for the
Animal House poster


His deflations of political figures and critique of American military efforts abroad are also prevalent in the exhibition. A particularly sharp illustration recalls Ronald Reagan’s highly controversial visit to a Nazi SS cemetery in Bitburg, Germany: as the former president weeps over the graves, his face melts like wax under intense heat. And in Meyerowitz’s last piece for the Lampoon, he depicts a scene of corporate-subsidized attack machines crawling over a field of battle: bombers release payloads of “Obsession” by Calvin Klein as a “Ground to Air Jordan” plane cruises by.


"Bye-Bye Bozo: Reagan at Bitburg"  


"Operation Desert Sales" 
 

Since his time at the Lampoon, Meyerowitz has continued his work as an illustrator and author. On the visual side, he collaborated with fellow artist Maira Kalman to create “New Yorkistan,” one of the New Yorker’s most popular covers. Released in the wake of 9/11, the New York Times reflected, “When their cover came out, a dark cloud seemed to lift.”


“New Yorkistan” cover from The New Yorker
 

And to codify the enduring legacy of the magazine, in 2010 Meyerowitz released a compendium of work by its numerous contributors entitled Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great. (Signed editions are available at the gallery.) A recent documentary about the Lampoon by Magnolia pictures borrows the title of this book, and is now available online.


From surreal political jabs to all-out farce, Meyerowitz’s work for National Lampoon touched upon many of the era’s singular issues with a humor that is still relevant today. The question is whether the world has bent to Meyerowitz’s vision, or if he was just ahead of the game.

Rick Meyerowitz’s National Lampoon is on view at RARE through December 5, 2015.

Posted in Art on November 19 2015

Rick Meyerowitz’s National Lampoon Opening Reception

Posted in Art, Design on October 30 2015

Rick Meyerowitz’s National Lampoon

Installation shots from our current exhibition, on display through December 5th, 2015. For more information about the show and related events, visit the exhibition page

Posted in Art, Design on October 30 2015

Opening Reception for “No gate, no lock, 
no bolt”: The Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History

A few pictures from last night's reception...!

 

“No gate, no lock, 
no bolt”: The Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History is now open through Saturday, October 24, 2015. For more information, visit the exhibition page

Posted in Art, Design, Literature on October 15 2015

“No gate, no lock, 
no bolt”: The Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History

 

Posted in Art, Design, Literature on October 14 2015

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