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Donald Lipski Artwork Installed At New Central Library

Evening Edition

Aired 6/11/13 on KPBS News.

There won’t be just books under the dome in the new Central Library in downtown San Diego. There will also be art. The first of four large pieces has just been installed.

Donald Lipski’s artwork in the auditorium of the new Central Library is made up of books — 1,500 books to be exact. The books line a 60-foot, slightly-curved wall. A wall of books may sound typical for a library, but this is no ordinary book shelf.

To get a sense of what Lipski's piece looks like, let's pretend the wall where it's installed is a giant magnet. Suddenly, it sucks every book in the room to its surface. They are all randomly open, layered on top of one another at different angles. Someone follows with a drill, screwing them to the wall.

A detail of Lipski's "Hiding My Candy."

"Oh, I think there’s about three- to 4,000 screws on it," said Lipski, who is based in New York. The entire piece took a week to install.

A wire mesh screen covers the books, trapping them against the wall.

Lipski works on a large scale. On a recent overseas trip, I traveled through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. I was struck by a large chandelier of Swarovski crystals on wires hanging in the international terminal. The piece is called "RebiLace," an anagram of Liberace. I ate my lunch in full view of its opulence, a real contrast to the airport's otherwise sterile setting. Only later did I learn this piece was by Donald Lipski.

His public works can be found all over the country. He suspended a fabricated butterfly sculpture, its wings made from thousands of amber-hued test tubes, from the ceiling of a science building in Denver.

After leaving San Diego, Lipski will begin working on a piece for a sports arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, home to a Russell Stover candy factory. He'll be making a wall of massive fabricated chocolate pieces.

Lipski’s piece was chosen for the new downtown library from a national competition that drew 350 applicants. His is one of four commissioned pieces scheduled for install throughout the summer.

The books on the wall aren’t great literary works or especially meaningful. Lipski purchased them in bulk from a bookseller in New York who planned to sell them cheaply or send them to a landfill. One book is a memoir titled Hiding My Candy, written by a drag queen named Lady Chablis. She’s probably best known her role in a book about Savannah, Georgia called Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Lipski named his artwork after Lady Chablis's memoir.

"I liked the phrase 'Hiding my Candy,'" Lipski explained. "It seemed to imply an awful lot. Especially when you look at it in the context of all these books hiding each other."

"He creates work that is witty, but also classically beautiful," said Dana Springs, the city of San Diego's public art manager. She's overseeing the selection and installation of the artwork in the new library, which is scheduled to open in September.

Lipski says though it's a challenge, he enjoys making art for the general public.

"I like to try to make work that can have a lot of impact all at once, but still have enough substance that if you see it over time, it will give you more and more to think about," Lipski explained. One substantive thread: our culture's relationship to actual books and libraries at a time when downloading books is so popular.

Who knows how we’ll be reading 30 years from now, which means Lipski’s artwork will only get more interesting.

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