Critics’ Picks

WORD AS IMAGE, 2007, framed book cover, 18 1/4 x 19 3/4".

New York

Matthew Higgs

Jack Hanley Gallery
327 Broome Street
July 7–August 18

In his latest exhibition, Matthew Higgs displays the gentle madness of a true bibliophile. As a writer and curator, Higgs has championed the forgotten mimeographs and art rags from bygone eras. Like that of any true lover of the printed page, his ardor extends to the physical properties of the book itself: size and heft, typography and paper quality, colors and design. In his art, Higgs appropriates the visual language of books: Some are chosen for the declarations of the text, others for their innovative or nostalgia-inducing look. He frames covers and title pages, setting apart each for our consideration.

The words and statements read like poetic declarations from manifestos past; the shape and space of the words become pictures. In rounded, well-spaced letters that stretch from edge to edge across the middle of one page, WORD AS IMAGE (all works 2007), stands as a proclamation, an early-'80s idea spruced up in this context. Others, like Art Is to Enjoy, seem like sly poetry masquerading as edifying slogans from Mao’s “Little Red Book.” The words and pages, stripped from their original context, invite us into our own handling of language, and we invest it with new meaning. With a whisper of schoolboy nostalgia, the back cover of a marble-bound composition book winks back at the viewer. All the connotations of its classic, utilitarian design have survived the trek from book bag to gallery wall. Though visually unprepossessing, the subtle qualities of the art emerge upon considered observation. Higgs’s exhibition both quietly declares a love for the formal traits of everyday things and, like Higgs himself, deftly plays between image and text.