Experiment: Ex Libris

Experiment: Ex Libris (July 17 – October 16, 2020)

An online exhibition of 12 experimental bookplates inspired by selected books of Günter Grass, created specifically for the Gdańsk City Gallery by artists invited to the project. We will publish a new bookplate every week introducing its author and presenting his/her major projects and achievements. In addition to the online exhibition, the project’s final product will be a 2021 calendar featuring the bookplates with the curator’s commentary. All works created as part of the project will be added to the Gdańsk City Gallery’s collection.

Artists: Alicja Karska and Aleksandra Went, Tomasz Kopcewicz, Agata Nowosielska, Anna Orbaczewska, Patrycja Orzechowska, Maciek Salamon, Dominika Skutnik, Dorota Walentynowicz, Adam Witkowski, Ania Witkowska, Krzysztof Wróblewski, Marcin Zawicki

Curator: Marta Wróblewska

Animation: Katarzyna Łygońska

Visual identification: Patrycja Orzechowska

Sound: Piotr Kaliński

The curator is especially indebted to Dominika Skutnik for inspiring her to discover the potential of the bookplate art form and make an attempt at expressing it through the contemporary artistic language.

The term “bookplate” is derived from the Latin ex libris, meaning “from the books of”. Its primary point of reference is the book as a product of imagination and literary activity of the writer, often decorated with illustrations by graphic artists, as exemplified by the works of Daniel Chodowiecki and Günter Grass, the House’s name patrons. In the works of Grass, words and pictures often came from a single line drawn on paper with a stylus. A painter and printmaker, Chodowiecki left a large collection of book illustrations, both for his own books as well as works of the European literary masters, such as Goethe or Shakespeare. During the Ex Libris project, we will be inviting twelve artists to create bookplates to selected books by Günter Grass. Following the good tradition, the bookplates will be created specifically for the commissioning institution, the Gdańsk City Gallery, thus becoming a part of its collection as well as an object of online exhibition and a unique publication.

Ex libris has always been a characteristic label, a mark of ownership connected with a book or library. It has a highly personalised form with elements characteristic of its owner, whether a private person or an institution. In a modern context, one might say that the bookplate serves as a logo or personal card, as it includes a certain set of identification information inspired by individual characteristics of the commissioning person.

With its multidimensional nature, the art of ex libris is considered to have an interdisciplinary quality. Looking from a contemporary perspective, it is fair to say that its formula is becoming more and more flexible, open and prone to experiment. As a means of artistic expression, the bookplate offers relatively large freedom in terms of invention, technique and style of execution. Its semantic visual layer is a result of deep reflection and accurate capture of the subject matter by the author. Furthermore, it is a proof of the commissioning person’s aesthetic taste and sophistication, adding prestige to the collection of books identified in such an exceptional way.

The origins of bookplates are connected to the art of heraldry. Through the ages, the unique labels inserted under the book cover displayed more and more artistic finesse as their practical identification function gave way to the aesthetic one. A staple element of the art of ex libris has always been an insightful approach to the book and its owner to capture their identity and essence, the resulting final visual form being a quintessence of the collected, interpreted and creatively processed knowledge. In this way, the art of ex libris acquires an additional dimension integrating the maker with the commissioning party, the artist with the collector, the visual art with literature, and – within the realms of our project – the traditional with the modern.

With the attempt to revive the old art of ex libris, we put the artists to a considerable challenge. The proposed experiment relies on combining traditional forms with unconventional and individual solutions and concepts developed by each artist, where the historic phenomenon is treated as a starting point to be interpreted and transformed with the use of the contemporary language. Therefore, we are inviting not only graphic artists in the strict sense of the word but also artists open to new and unconventional challenges, of broad artistic horizons, not restricted to a single means of expression. Our ex libris will be a card to be pasted in the selected book as well as an autonomous work of art; it will integrate the continuity of tradition and a fresh modern approach; it will have a practical, informative and aesthetic value while serving as a marker of interdisciplinarity; and most importantly, it will mark an encounter through an inspiring and creative dialogue.


24/07 - Tomasz Kopcewicz - https://youtu.be/eyT1rC23B4s
31/07 - Marcin Zawicki - https://youtu.be/MFQr9I9UsI8
07/08 - Dorota Walentynowicz  - https://youtu.be/sl4Vwe_IMI0
14/08 - Adam Witkowskihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGTw-BjMtJ8
21/08 - Agata Nowosielska - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ-k_--Rp9Y
04/09 - Maciej Salamon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1dNPPRZfTw
11/09 - Alicja Karska & Aleksandra Went - https://youtu.be/z45Is-5uYKM
18/09 - Anna Orbaczewska - https://youtu.be/8v613MXJTVg
25/09 - Krzysztof Wróblewski - https://youtu.be/823ryLQzxas
2/10 - Patrzycja Orzechowska - https://youtu.be/Xy--H34IoQ0
9/10 - Dominika Skutnik - https://youtu.be/Gfcg-ebxQpM