June 19, 2017

The parthenon of banned books has been built!


An image of Marta Minujín’s 1983 parthenon of books in Argentina. Image via Documenta 14. Her new display is even bigger, made up of 100,000 books.

Back in November, we wrote about Argentine artist Marta Minujín’s plans to erect a “parthenon of banned books” as part of the documenta 14 art fair in Kassel, Germany. It was a sequel of sorts, to an earlier parthenon she had built in Argentina.

In 1983, to celebrate the restoration of democracy in her country after years of military dictatorship, Argentine conceptual and performance artist Marta Minujín erected a “Parthenon of Banned Books” along Buenos Aires’s Ninth of July Avenue. The work, which stood in the capital for three weeks, was a scale model of the ancient Athenian temple to which its name refers, made of literary works that had been banned in Argentina. These included books by Freud, Marx, Gramsci, Foucault, and many others, along with—for some reason—The Little Prince. After three weeks, it went the way of all site-specific ephemera, and took on a more permanent form as a series of photographs depicting its construction and demolition. The books themselves were distributed to residents of the city. (If you’re having trouble picturing this, it may be helpful to know that Ninth of July is the widest avenue in the world.)

The new, larger display has gone up in Kassel, and is made out of 100,000 books.

Built in the exact same dimensions as the real-life Parthenon, the structure’s metal grill columns contains hundreds of titles, including the Bible, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), each one wrapped in plastic to protect their pages from the elements. Lodged into place by volunteers on cranes, the works will be distributed to visitors once the artwork is dismantled.

As the artist herself has said, “Democracy without books is not democracy.” Check out Mental Floss for great pictures of the new exhibit.



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.