Go Ask Alice

Friday, November 3, 2017

They say print is dead, but Joan Davidson must not have heard. Since 2013, Davidson has presented the Alice Award, an annual honor with a $25,000 prize attached, to “an illustrated book that makes a valuable contribution to its field and demonstrates high standards of production.” And this year’s awards ceremony, held Wednesday at the Strand’s Rare Book Room, showed that Davidson isn’t the only one who still believes in print culture.

A group of book lovers—among them members of the Alice’s jury, like gallerist Paula Cooper, publisher David Godine, illustrator R.O. Blechman and Yale Art Gallery director Jock Reynolds—gathered to celebrate the year’s best illustrated books. This year’s winner was Charles Percier: Architecture and Design in an Age of Revolutions, published by the Bard Graduate Center. “It meets all of the criteria of the award,” said Davidson. “It’s beautifully produced, with wonderful paper, wonderful type, wonderful illustrations, well written, interesting text full of new ideas. It’s got everything going for it—beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold on your lap.”

And in 2017, that can seem a bit radical. “We are in a fight for the values of the enlightenment,” Tony Marx of the New York Public Library said in his opening remarks. But the Alice is helping to ensure that print culture sticks around for at least a little while longer. “It’s a pretty hefty prize. $25,000 can be pretty important for a publisher,” said Davidson. 

This year, for the first time, books shortlisted for the Alice were given $5,000. Those celebrated included Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan, published by the Saint Louis Art Museum; Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965, published by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery; and Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic, published by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.


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by Ben DiamondPhotographed by Ben Diamond