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A Tale of Two Cities

A work made of gelatin silver print.
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

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  • A work made of gelatin silver print.




Abelardo Morell
American, born Cuba 1948

About this artwork

Abelardo Morell’s series on books depicts them simultaneously as conveyors of information and as palpable, even multisensory, objects. In 1995 he accepted a position as artist-in-residence at the Boston Athenaeum, an independent library and museum that was founded in 1807. “One of the big pleasures of this project has come from spending a good amount of time looking at, holding, smelling, and reading a terrific number of skinny, fat, tall, pompous, modest, funny, sad, proud, injured, and radiant books,” he later wrote. Recognizing that the physical features of books affect our perception of their contents, Morell transformed these humble, familiar things in ways that continue to occupy him to this day.

In this photograph of the opening page of Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, Morell shows how the book’s paper, translucent in the light, allows words from either side to blend and confuse meaning. Phrases running forward and backward —“Light” and “dirty procession,” “epoch of belief” and “because he had not kneeled”—contradict each other. This visual opposition seems to literalize Dickens’s famous first sentence, which begins: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.”


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Abelardo Morell


A Tale of Two Cities


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 2001


Gelatin silver print


6 of 30


Image: 46 × 57 cm (18 1/8 × 22 1/2 in.); Paper: 51 × 61 cm (20 1/8 × 24 1/16 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

Reference Number



© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

Extended information about this artwork

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