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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Last chance to see ‘Mostly Monochrome,’ a book-inspired art exhibit at the BPL

Dvorak Black Dahlia
Danell Dvorak
Visual artist Danell Dvorak is often inspired by literature, including this painting of "Black Dahlia" (2018). It and other works are part of "Mostly Monochrome" on display through Dec. 31 at the Bloomington Public Library.

The Bloomington Public Library lost its dedicated gallery space during a 2006 renovation, but BPL officials didn't want to wait for the long-anticipated expansion to share visual art.

Danell Dvorak is among the first local artists to show work at BPL. Through Dec. 31, her “Mostly Monochrome” exhibit is hung near the CD/DVD section, and around the circulation desk on the library’s first floor.

Now entering its final week, “Mostly Monochrome” is a dream come true for bookworm Dvorak, a local artist, ceramicist and teaching artist whose love for the library runs deep.

“In the children’s section, there’s an annual, fifth grade art show,” said Dvorak. “To me, the adult section is finally on even ground with the kids. We want to show our work at the library, too. There’s a sense of honor that you are part of the library and that you’re in with the books.”

The decision to tuck artwork among the library collection was both artistic and practical. Without a sufficient gallery space, adult services librarian Mimi Davis said it was an obvious choice to hang art on whatever wall space was available.

“Luckily, our director Jeanne Hamilton agreed with us that art is for everybody and there’s no reason to wait until we have the perfect space,” Davis said.

Dvorak’s curated selection for “Mostly Monochrome” is a collection of mostly black and white paintings that mimic the look of typeface on the pages of a book. As a lifelong reader, Dvorak often draws inspiration from library shelves.

“I don’t know if I would have become an artist without a library, starting with picture books,” she said.

The biggest considerations for which works would be part of the show were space and color scheme. But there’s also an undercurrent of pulp fiction and other literature-inspired ephemera in the 10 paintings, each created between 2015 and 2021.

“If I’m looking for ‘Mostly Monochrome’ — black, white, and maybe one other color — then that already is going to reduce things,” Dvorak said. “In terms of scale, what will fit within the spaces, and how heavy is the artwork? Then, as I went through, two pieces are specifically about Elizabeth Short and 'The Black Dahlia,' which of course the library has a copy of.”

An overarching goal of BPL’s exhibits is to reduce barriers to art and remind Twin Cities residents that art is for all of them.

“Art is in everything we do, and the library is one of the great examples,” said Davis. “Look at all of the covers of the magazines and books — even the designs on the tiles. Art is here. There are probably people who, for whatever reason, aren’t going to get to a gallery opening, but they maybe come here with kids and a stroller. Or, people who may not feel comfortable at a traditional gallery and have a pre-conceived idea that galleries are stuffy. But the library is one of the last places on earth where you can just exist. It’s free for everyone.”

“Mostly Monochrome: Paintings by Danell Dvorak” runs through Dec. 31 at the Bloomington Public Library. Next up, central Illinois artist Jake Reagan’s show “Black and White Realism” begins Jan. 3. Individuals and artist groups can apply to show their work at bloomingtonlibrary.org.

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