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Jung’s Red Book at the Hammer

May 21, 2010

Tonite Dave and I went to see the exhibit of Jung’s Red Book at the Hammer. One of the things I’m loving about living in W. LA is being able to “pop in” to see world-class exhibits, and with free admission on Thursday nights!

I count Man and His Symbols as one of my top five, all-time most influential books, and was looking forward to seeing “Liber Novus.” I had read in the NYT magazine (“The Holy Grail of the Unconscious,” Sept 16, 2009)

‘“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can—in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal—but then you need to do that—then you are freed from the power of them. … Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church—your cathedral—the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them—then you will lose your soul—for in that book is your soul.”’

I had expected the Red Book to be more like a sketchbook, with crude drawings and scrawled notes. Jung really meant what he said about a “beautifully bound book.” The Red Book resembles the medieval books I’m so fond of, with exquisite calligraphy, illuminated letters and illustrations. These last are painted with quality paints, some gilding and fine detail, the tempera paintings handled with impressive skill. Many images are beautiful and better than most 60’s –era psychedelia.

The second half of the 416-page volume is an English translation. The Hammer exhibit has five copies you can flip through, with the original in a plexi box. I thought the quality of the binding and printing make it worth the $195 (cheaper of course on amazon). The Hammer bookstore employees said the book is already on its fifth printing.

There are other paintings by Jung on display and I was impressed with both his vision and artistic skill. This exhibit is well worth catching before it closes June 6.

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