Rows of open faced books encased, illuminated, and suspended in the dark –that’s what you see before you look inside the books on display or as you approach doors leading into the galleries at the Crossing Borders exhibition of illuminated medieval Hebrew, Islamic, and Christian manuscripts on loan at the Jewish Museum from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. I wasn’t expecting anything quite so exciting. Not content, the first thing is form, the mix of ambient darkness and artificial (non-natural) illumination, two rows of book per long case, one case behind the other. The open, floating books are winged, bird-like, angelic, the darkened red walls of the surrounding space corpuscular. Even before you look to examine any one individual book, the exhibition design-work has already made its visual impression, left its mark. I’m sure I’ve never seen anything like it, this “fraternity” of books and the techno-spiritual form in which they are shown and to which they are given.
Edward Rothstein wrote in the New York Times about the display design: The manuscripts have also been hauntingly mounted by the exhibition designer, MESH Architectures, in vitrines, each illuminated by beams from LEDs projected down, so that when a visitor looks across the galleries, the open codices seem to hover against the deep red walls, a sensation at once reverential and elevating. (MESH also designed the show’s rich Web site: bodleian.thejewishmuseum.org.)
Do I repeat myself? So I repeat myself! This is out of this world! It conveys what Cavell calls “inordinate knowledge,” knowledge-off-the-charts.