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"Paul Klee: the Visible and the Legible"

The winner of the 2016 Robert Motherwell Book Award is Paul Klee: The Visible and the Legible (The University of Chicago Press) by Annie Borneuf. The award carries a $10,000 prize for the author.

The fact that Paul Klee (1879–1940) consistently intertwined the visual and the verbal in his art has long fascinated commentators from Walter Benjamin to Michel Foucault. However, the questions it prompts have never been satisfactorily answered—until now. In Paul Klee, Annie Bourneuf offers the first full account of the interplay between the visible and the legible in Klee’s works from the 1910s and 1920s.

Bourneuf argues that Klee joined these elements to invite a manner of viewing that would unfold in time, a process analogous to reading. From his elaborate titles to the small scale he favored to his metaphoric play with materials, Klee created forms that hover between the pictorial and the written. Through his unique approach, he subverted forms of modernist painting that were generally seen to threaten slow, contemplative viewing. Tracing the fraught relations among seeing, reading, and imagining in the early twentieth century, Bourneuf shows how Klee reconceptualized abstraction at a key moment in its development.

Annie Bourneuf is an assistant professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her research centers on media histories, relations between writing and the visual arts, and the culture of the print.

The jury also awarded an Honorable Mention to Realism in the Age of Impressionism: Painting and the Politics of Time by Marnin Young, and published by Yale University Press.