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Orly Genger: Artist and lover of books by artists

Orly Genger enjoys reading the writings of other artists and rarely picks up fiction. Hadley Fruits

At 32, Orly Genger already has a sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. She also won this year’s $25,000 Rappaport Prize from the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The artist, who makes massive, writhing installations of hand-woven rope, lives in New York City.

BOOKS: What kind of books do you like?

GENGER: Generally I like to read books about art. One of my favorites is “The Creative Process’’ by Brewster Ghiselin. It’s an anthology of writing by people from Einstein to Henry Moore about their own creativity. Another favorite is “Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings.’’ I love to read artists’ writings. They help me talk about my own work.


BOOKS: Who else do you like?

GENGER: Tony Cragg, Eva Hesse, Richard Serra. Tony Cragg has a book that I feel lucky I picked up, “In and Out of Material.’’ I read “Eva Hesse’’ by Mignon Nixon, which has interviews with her as well as her writing, and it was very moving. I’ve read a lot of Richard Serra’s writings but one of my favorites, which I read over and over, was a short speech he gave at the Williams College commencement in 2008. Another book I enjoyed very much was Michael Kimmelman’s “The Accidental Masterpiece.’’ I bought a bunch and gave them to people.

BOOKS: Do you read any other kind of books for inspiration?

GENGER: I go to Emerson’s essays, which remind me of looking up at the stars and seeing how endless the possibilities are. Each of his sentences is a gem. You can read five sentences and that’s it for the night.

BOOKS: Have you always read books like this?

GENGER: I have. I was never a big reader and am still not. When I do read I want to make it matter.


BOOKS: Have you ever read much in the way of fiction?

GENGER: Rarely, but recently I read two books by friends of mine. One is “These Days Are Ours’’ by Michelle Haimoff, which comes out in February. It’s about kids in their 20s in New York City after 9/11. The other is James Frey’s “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.’’ I liked both. But I don’t read much fiction. I read because it’s part of my process of making art. Reading is not an escape for me.

BOOKS: Was it ever?

GENGER: No. I grew up with nonliterary parents. They read the paper, not books. Growing up, I didn’t know anything about pop culture, whether it was literary or musical. Then I went to Brown where there’s no core curriculum. I missed out on a lot. When I did pick up books it was because of a need to get information.

BOOKS: What is on your upcoming list?

GENGER: Ken Johnson’s “Are You Experienced? How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art’’ and a book that a friend gave me that I would have never picked up, “Three Cups of Tea,’’ by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, about this guy who built schools in Pakistan.

BOOKS: That doesn’t sound like you.

GENGER: Not at all. But if a good friend is really moved by something and wants me to read it, I will. It’s enough that they were moved by it. And you get to know your friends more when you see what’s moved them.


BOOKS: Anything else you read because someone gave it to you?

GENGER: Another book that is totally not me, but James Frey gave it to me, “A Confederacy of Dunces’’ by John Kennedy Toole. It was a great book. He also gave me “Tender Is the Night’’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I haven’t read. And my dad gave me, “The Tough-Minded Optimist’’ by Norman Vincent Peale.

BOOKS: Did you read it?

GENGER: I skimmed it. It’s from my dad. I adore him.

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