Skip to main content

Giant 'C' sculpture of Cornell humanities books to depict the breadth of the university's scholarship

The world will soon "C" the humanities at Cornell as never before.

In a first-of-its kind project, Cornell art Professor Buzz Spector will create one of the largest and most inclusive artworks in the university's history: an installation composed entirely of thousands of books by current Cornell faculty members that will illustrate the extraordinary reach of Cornell scholarship.

"The installation will be both a physical manifestation of the depth and breadth of Cornell scholarship in the humanities and arts," says Spector, "and be itself a beautiful and evocative form."

The Humanities Book Art Project will rise in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning's New York City space (50 W. 17th St.), and be on display from Jan. 12-19, 2007; the installation may be reinstalled on the Ithaca campus in the spring.

Spector envisions the structure in the shape of a giant letter "C": a curving, rising-and-falling, ziggurat-like sculpture of books that invites viewers to use their imaginations to browse among the volumes of the metaphorical library.

He plans to document the final work from a raised platform with a large-format Polaroid camera -- the same camera used by William Wegman, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Joyce Tenneson and other artists. A show of photographs by artists using the large-format Polaroid camera is on exhibit at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art through Oct. 22. The large-format Polaroid is being retired due to competition from digital formats, and one of Spector's images will be donated to the Johnson Museum.

The image also will appear on posters, on the Internet and elsewhere. Construction of the installation will be filmed, and the video streamed online at A companion index, generated from the database of information on books loaned for the project, will be published.

"I've been using the 20x24 camera since 1999," says Spector. "My first project was to photograph arrangements of all the books in my personal library by or about particular artists or writers who have influenced me intellectually."

Spector, who chairs AAP's art department, will engage students in his 2007 winter session class, "Inspiration to Exhibition," held in New York City, in constructing the book installation. Students also will be hired to collect, archive and return books.

"The Humanities Book Art Project is a wonderful idea, one I am pleased to support, because it highlights not only the scholarly work of our humanists and artists, but also the book as an object and its continuing importance to us all," says Cornell Provost Biddy Martin. "The project will create awareness of the impact of humanities scholarship at Cornell, support the creative activities of faculty and students and also highlight the Ithaca campus's many links to the New York City art scene."

Spector's large-scale book constructions have been exhibited in such museums as the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Rome's Palazzo Falconieri and the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. He was featured in the PBS series "Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art."

"In 1988 I constructed the Library of Babel, an installation of 2,000 found books at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a 36-foot-long arc of stacked volumes. The Cornell installation could end up being far larger if all faculty decide to participate," Spector says.

Loan Buzz your books
Provost Biddy Martin will invite Cornell faculty authors to loan their published works to the Humanities Book Art Project later this semester. Books eligible for the project can be in any area of the arts or humanities, broadly defined: biography, imagery, criticism, theory, plays, scripts, memoir and the history of science. Scientific textbooks or books about scientific research are not eligible. A complete bibliography will be produced, and books loaned to the project will be returned in the same condition as received at the end of the spring 2007 semester. Instructions for submission will be detailed in the provost's invitation.

Media Contact

Media Relations Office