Just as the Book Den (15 E. Anapamu St.) intersects visual art and the written word by exhibiting artwork among its well-stocked bookshelves, so does Judy Nilsen’s Visual Wisdom, thus titled for its imaginative pairing of assemblage art with quotations, which graces the beloved bookshop’s walls through the month of November. Among the assemblage of reasons to take a peek:
1) Satisfy your curiosity. Exhibitions such as Nilsen’s demonstrate a resurgence of interest in Renaissance “Wunderkammern,” or “curiosity cabinets,” known for their often idiosyncratic blend of science and art. The box constructions of contemporary assemblage artists reveal diverse backgrounds and interests-ranging, in Nilsen’s case, from reading to travel to the natural world.
2) Take a crash course in literature. All of Nilsen’s compositions are based on quotes, a clever conceit that provides the “wisdom” of the show’s title. Each work is paired with a quotation that either inspired its creation, or seemed suited to accompany the objects collected by Nilsen. The quotes she incorporates into her work come from sources as eminent as Khalil Gibran and Henry David Thoreau, and as gelastic as Drew Barrymore and Groucho Marx.
3) Look at the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Many of Nilsen’s assemblage sculptures portray familiar objects in a new light. A decoupaged light bulb becomes a rooting plant bulb. The body of a violin is transformed into the body of a cat, with the addition of a wooden spoon handle for a tail to complete the metamorphosis.
4) Travel without ever leaving Santa Barbara. Several of Nilsen’s assemblage sculptures offer a peek into other places. “Travel Books” offers the waggish advice that the only book to consult when preparing for a voyage is your checkbook. A whimsical vignette of a carp driving a tin cab across a Big Apple-themed collage comprises “New York Fish.” “Paris” includes a map of Peoria, a miniaturized Eiffel Tower, and an unraveled reel of film, providing the perfect visual translation of Vincent Canby’s witty epigram: “Through the magic of motion pictures, someone who’s never left Peoria knows the softness of a Paris spring.”
5) Find yourself charmed. Nilsen, a retired art teacher and longtime visual artist, vouches for the playful nature of her work. “Many of the pieces make people smile and chuckle as human wisdom becomes art,” she stated. “I think there will be at least one piece that will make you smile.”