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TO MAY 13
“Book as Art XIII: Artists’ Books About Artists” features roughly 60 works by female artists (Carol Schwartzott’s Matisse: Ode/Odalisque is pictured), but don’t expect the somewhat misleadingly titled exhibition to display the feminist versions of the Gutenberg Bible or the Book of Kells. Although some works in the exhibit are indeed handmade books or calligraphic wall hangings, the majority are more traditional forms of visual art, including pastels, sculptures, and Rauschenberg-style assemblages. All are deeply intellectual in spirit, and most are deadly serious. In other words, they’re the kind of works that should excite a passel of grad students in comp lit or European cultural studies. Even so, a handful should also impress those who, like me, possess a mere liberal-arts degree. Anna Torelli’s Plexiglas homage to Piet Mondrian skillfully blends the Dutch painter’s abstract grid designs with sheet musican allusion to Mondrian’s love of boogie-woogie jazz. Elisabetta Gut’s small paper construction Uccello di Fuoco (The Firebird) manages the rare feat of portraying a fiery explosion with paper as delicate as origami. About the only work with a sense of humor is On the Line, by Linda K. Johnson and Kristy D. Lewis; it consists of a miniature clothesline that airs small scraps of cloth emblazoned with the dirty laundry of famous (male) artists, encapsulated with Barbara Kruger-like pithiness (“Gauguin moved to Tahiti for free sex”). The exhibit could have benefited from an overview of the phenomenon of books as art; still, one learns quite plainly that not all written works are born to be stuffed into a briefcase and read on the Metro. “Book as Art XIII” is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Sunday, May 13, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. $5. (202) 783-5000. (Louis Jacobson)