“Bookish”: The New Susan Hensel Art Exhibition

Dec 18th, 2020 – Feb 28th, 2021

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“Bookish” is the new Susan Hensel art exhibition and her latest work is a continuation and evolution of her renowned artist books. In the new online series titled Bookish, she presents fabric and multi-media pieces that depict the book liberated by Hensel’s vision and veneration, picking up themes from past work and developing fresh perspectives. The series represents the deep reservoir of ideas and approaches born out of a long relationship between an artist and her subject matter. Discover “Bookish” – a Susan Hensel art exhibition.

The Process Behind This Susan Hensel Art Exhibition

Due to the long hours and painstaking demands on scribes recreating books before the printing press, their output was limited to what the culture felt was most dear and divine. The illuminated manuscript was an artistic outpouring into the pages, a celebration of the wisdom inside, a book as a work of art.

Gutenberg’s press transformed the book into one of the first mass-produced consumer products. What once were handmade objects created out of profound reverence and attention to detail were now commodities that could be sold by the dozen. When Gutenberg printed his famous blackletter bible around the year 1455, it came at the end of an arduous process of design and typesetting, but it marked the desacralization of the book itself.

This metamorphosis created a fissure in the history of writing — on the one side stands the sacred art and craft of presenting texts, on the other the unstoppable march of industrialization.

The printing press facilitated widespread literacy and launched a thousand revolutions in thought. This new popular relation to the book created a different kind of holiness. No longer was any one book so important, but the book as an idea was now a living spirit in the masses.

Hensel’s Bookish picks up this legacy and turns it inside-out, using the archetypal physical definition and features of the book as a jumping-off point for exploration. It plays with this public relationship with the form, a well worn warm regard for the treasures of reading, and reconnects it with the more ancient legacy of the book as a one-of-a-kind art object that is valuable in itself.

But this is not merely swinging the pendulum backward out of nostalgia, because Hensel’s books are no longer carriers of the written word but works read in a protean, three-dimensional language. Her’s is a sculptural alphabet deciphered more by intuition and feeling than sounding out.

While Hensel’s previous experiments with the book were anchored to the original form, Bookish presses into the unexplored. Just as the name suggests, these pieces are like their inspiration, but they have become fully their own creations. That is what makes this Susan Hensel art exhibition so incredible.

The Color Pallettes

In both resplendent and sepia palettes, Hensel’s pieces explore a vast landscape of possibilities: mountain ridges, geometric eruptions, Memphis-style forms, curious fans that are pulled and deformed by pendants, and — on the conservative side — illustrated books. Altogether, the series is a hallucination of the book: animating, mutating, blooming, burning with an inner life now scrutable in its very body.

This expanse of possibilities in a single series is not unlike a good book. The pouring out of narratives, characters, and far away places define the perpetual love of the stories told inbound pages, and Hensel now provides her own epic. Her sweeping tale traverses a territory both strange and familiar, colorful and pale, direct and obtuse. It takes that most everyday, relatable form and unleashes it, all designed and constructed with physical drama and personhood.

Hensel’s ongoing fascination with the architecture of the book rhymes with her own process. Predominantly working in digital machine embroidery, her work merges both organic shapes and inner states with a highly technological process. She uses the techniques of mass production to create the one-of-a-kind.

For over a decade, Hensel has interpreted the book. This personal history represents worshipful respect for the object, a pursuit of the full potential hidden in the leaves and binding. In her latest series, she continues to scry the forms waiting inside the ridges and folds — freer and more extravagantly self-possessed than ever before.

“Bookish” is just one Susan Hensel art exhibition. Hensel’s work has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, including dozens of solo shows, across a fifty-year span. The Susan Hensel Gallery has served as home for many early and mid-career artists. She is the recent recipient of grants and residencies from the Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, and Ragdale Foundation.

-Jonathon M. Clark, independent critic


The focus of Susan Hensel Gallery is on compelling objects, meaningful use of materials, and engaging sculpture. It is a gallery where experimental ideas and works of the hand join to create unique sensory experiences. Opened September 10th, 2004 Susan Hensel Gallery is a gallery/ workspace presenting 5-6 shows per year in an intimate space, with hardwood floors and high tin ceilings. In 2013 the interior space reverted to a working studio for Susan Hensel where she continues to work on small and largescale artwork that engages both sculptural and cultural space. You can find her current work at www.SusanHenselProjects.com. The Susan Hensel Gallery is now both a large window gallery on Cedar Avenue, a main thoroughfare in south Minneapolis. The “Bookish” Susan Hensel art exhibition is her latest work is a continuation and evolution of her renowned artist books.

Susan Hensel Gallery @ Artsy.net


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