An artist bought cheap paperbacks for 10 or 25 cents at used bookstores. In little time, the collection grew to 100’s. He organized them by genre—suspense, mystery, and murder—and within each genre, he chose a select few, organizing them again, alphabetically by title. He ripped the covers off, stacked them, sealed them together with adhesive, and wielded a knife.
Afterwards he told me he didn’t want to make too many aesthetic decisions based on tone or color of pages. He said he didn’t want to work with high-art, literary-type books. He offered other explanations when I questioned him over Skype, after having met him at the opening of his show at the Packer Schopf Gallery on November 4. He didn’t seem shifty, but then again his show “Paper Back” is up there for only two weeks (before it travels to the Pulse Fair in Miami!).
The artist: Brian Dettmer: “This is the first time I’ve focused on paperbacks in such large pieces.”
See—he admitted it’s unusual. Brian Dettmer’s best known for slicing through vintage reference books, cutting around preexisting images and text, thereby creating intricate layered book-sculptures. But for the paperback book-sculptures in the new show, he’s complicated his readings with the knife, cutting out the letters of phrases. He revealed:
BD: “It’s tough working with language in visual art, I think, giving so much focus to such a short phrase. People are going to read into it, no matter what, so I didn’t want them to be too literary or sound too sure of themselves. I didn’t want them to come across as preachy. . . . And I definitely wanted to avoid them sounding too pretentious by being too intelligent or too deep. So the first one I come up with was ‘I Could Tell You But Then I’d Have To Kill You,’ and then I was thinking about the subjects as well, the suspense, the mystery, and the murder, and I was thinking about this situation we’re in with books right now. We don’t really know what the future is with them. And I wanted to use phrases that everyone knows, and I like this idea of cutting them off at the end. . . . It makes it darker, more open to interpretation. Even though everyone already knows exactly how it finishes, you’re finishing it in your head. Then the middle one ‘There’s Nothing To Fear But’ that, without the words ‘fear itself,’ seems even more troubling. But that’s like what’s going to happen to information if we do stop printing books. We’re constantly losing files and constantly having to upgrade. . . . Maybe I’m a bit of a doom-and-gloomer, but if we lose access to inexpensive electricity and information keeps going the way it does, we’re going to lose access to all of our personal and cultural records as well. We’re continuing to rely on constant electricity. Also thinking about how technology and information are so integrated and how vulnerable that’s becoming, but those are my own thoughts. They are such open phrases. They’re kind of cheesy, kind of funny also, but by putting them on there, people can stop there; they can read into it and put their own interpretation onto it.”
Okay, I agree—definitely humorous and dark. He continued:
BD: “When you’re on the right side [of each paperback sculpture], you can read the text, but when you’re on the left side, the letters become more visible, but then it’s also controlled the way the actual words are held together.”
Interesting. . . . But what about the notches in the sculptures?
BD: “I wanted something to tie the text in with the actual sculpture that would integrate the two, and I was also thinking about this idea that the text emerged from pixels but not literally carving a shape of a pixel. Just letting the text, the architecture of the book, the structure of the page dictate where these little things might go.”
I asked him to explain something else I found a little odd for him but definitely compelling—the ink-jet prints of visual poems on the walls near their corresponding sculptures. For example, pictured here “Prose and Poetry of the World”:
BD: “I’ve always found when I’m isolating specific lines of text, whether it be from an anatomy book or a mechanical book or even a poetry book because all these fields are so specific—once I’m isolating that text—it takes on a different meaning, the possibilities open up, and so it is a visual poetry. So for this new show, I’ve been focusing more on text, shifting toward that more. With some of the individual pieces, I then began transcribing the actual text into a printed page—highlighting that visual poetry—and hopefully shifting the viewer’s focus to that, at least what’s on the printed page, and then going back and forth between that and the sculpture.”
We talked about other shifts, more about his works using nonfiction:
BD: “The information [in nonfiction books] is changing over time but, as we all know, the form has changed as well. I think it’s dictionaries and encyclopedias, all of these reference books, that are losing their function the quickest because everything is online. I have 10 or 20 solid dictionaries in my studio right now, but if I need to look up a word, I’ll go online because I can get directly to it. Same with encyclopedias. Because the information is constantly evolving, but the form itself is evolving as well—encyclopedias and dictionaries—these text reference books are the first to go as far as the way books are going. It’s interesting because the content and also the form is constantly evolving and under threat.”
I asked but shouldn’t—What next, Brian Dettmer? You’ve really outdone yourself here. What next?
Brian Dettmer may or may not be at the closing reception—he didn’t know yet at the time of our talking. But the closing reception at Packer Schopf Gallery on November 20 will feature a performance by Coppice, a Chicago-based duet of bellows and electronics. The performance begins at 3:00 p.m.—sharp.
Work by Adam Ekberg. In the project space: I Believe in Harvey Dent or Three Months in Valparaiso, work by Jason Robert Bell
Thomas Robertello Gallery is located at 27 N. Morgan St. Reception Friday, 6-8pm
Work by by Judy Natal.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S Morgan St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
New photographs, sculptures, and paintings.
Donald Young Gallery 224 S. Michigan Ave. #266. Reception Friday, 5-7pm.
Release Party for PHONEBOOK 3
Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria. Party Saturday, 8-11pm.
Work by Ryan Travis Christian, with collaborative work in Gallery 2.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N Peoria St, 2A. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Participating curatorial groups and galleries: 2612 Space, 65GRAND, ACRE, Alderman Exhibitions, antenna, ANTIDOTE, Bad at Sports, Chicago Artists, Coalition, BOLT Residency, Chicago Urban Arts, DEFIBRILLATOR, Devening Projects + Editions, Document, Drawn Lots, Green Gallery, Happy Collaborationists, Harold Arts, High Concept Lab, The Hills, Hinge Gallery, Hungryman, Iceberg Projects, Itsa_pony, LVL3, Trevor Martin, Abr Gallery, North Branch Projects, Nudashank, Old Seoul, Packer Schopf Gallery, Peanut Gallery, Pentagon, portage ARTspace, Reference, Reuben Kincaid, Roots & Culture, Sixty Inches From Center, Small Space, Spudnik Press, threewalls, Uncle Freddy‚Äôs Treats, Linda Warren, Western Exhibitions, What It Is, and Propeller Fund grantees 2010.
GeoLofts is located at 3636 S. Iron At. The MDW Fair will continue through Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6pm.
There is just too much good stuff this weekend, 5 spots aren’t enough. Here’s what I think everyone should see, in chronological and alphabetical order:
Friday (4/1) -
Work by Will Arnold, Jung Eun Chang, Justin Farkas, Karri Anne Fischer, Motoko Furuhashi, Amy Gilles, Jim Graham, Dan Gratz, Ben Grosser, Ben Hatcher, Dan Krueger, Katie Latona, Erica Leohner, Maria Lux, Nick Mullins, Kerianne Quick, Michael Smith, Paul Shortt, Laura Tanner, Jessica Tolbert, Nicki Werner, Sarah Beth Woods, and Michael Woody.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S Morgan St. Reception Friday from 6-10pm.
Work by Maria Calderon.
Fill in the Blank Gallery is located at 5038 N. Lincoln Ave. Reception Friday from 7-11pm.
Work by Casey Riordan Millard
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Jeff Badger, Carl Baratta, Amanda Curreri, Joanne Lefrak, Kathy Leisen, and Dan Schank.
Lloyd Dobler is located at 1545 W. Division, 2nd Fl. Reception Friday from 6-10pm.
Work by Peter Allen Hoffmann.
NOTE NEW LOCATION: Thomas Robertello Gallery is located at 27 N Morgan St. Reception Friday from 6-8pm.
Saturday (4/2) -
Abstract Location features work by work by Steven Bankhead, Katarina Burin, Fritz Chesnut, Jacob Dyrenforth, Freeman & Lowe, and Ryan McGinness. Anthotypes features work by John Opera.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington. Reception Saturday from 4-7pm.
Work by Andy Cahill, Alan & Michael Fleming, Yasi Ghanbari, Danny Greene, Joe Grimm, Marissa Perel, Arron David Ross, and Michael Vallera.
LVL3 is located at 1542 N Milwaukee Ave #3. Reception Saturday from 6-10pm.
Sunday (4/3) -
Work by Joe Baldwin, Timothy Bergstrom, Brian Calvin, Federico Cattaneo, Edmund Chia, Dana DeGiulio, Dan Devening, Cheryl Donegan, Judith Geichman, Andrew Greene, Magalie Guérin, Antonia Gurkovska, Seth Hunter, Michiko Itatani, Eric Lebofsky, Diego Leclery, José Lerma, Jim Lutes, Rebecca Morris, Sabina Ott, Noah Rorem, Erin Washington and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung.
Julius Cæsar is located at 3144 W Carroll Ave, 2G. Reception Sunday from 4-7pm.
Work by Jon Rafman, Parker Ito, Micah Schippa, Tabor Robak and John Transue.
Antena is located at 1765 S Laflin St. Reception is Friday from 6-10pm.
The Annual Showcase of Emerging Typographic All-Stars: Andy Luce, Bill Talsma, Bud Rodecker / 3st, Caroline Corboy, Chris May, Emily Vanhoff, Frances MacLeod, Gary Rozanc, Jarred Kolar, Jessica Lynn White, Justin Gilman, Kyle Fletcher, Margo Yoon, Mark Addison Smith, Matthew Hoffman, Meng Yang, Nancy McCabe, Nick Adam, Nicole Briant, Quite Strong, Scott Reinhard, Sean Fermoyle, Sonnenzimmer, Studio 1a.m., and Tami Churns.
Co-Prosperity Sphere is located at 3219 S. Morgan St. Reception is Friday from 6pm-midnight.
Work by Renee McGinnis.
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Work inspired by Roald Dahl.
Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St., #2C. Event is Friday from 6-8pm.
Work by Zachary Cahill, Theaster Gates, Mathew Paul Jinks, Aspen Mays, and Cauleen Smith.
Roots and Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception is Saturday from 6-9pm.
Sorry I’ve missed you all over the Christmas and New Year holiday, I was gallivanting about in California. Now I’m back, and looking forward to another great year of Chicago art.
Work by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick.
Carl Hammer Gallery is located at 740 N. Wells St. Reception is Friday from 5:30-8pm.
Work by Eric Blum, David Burdeny, Helen Maureen Cooper, Jordan Eagles, Bob Emser, Amanda Friedman, Joseph Ivacic, Yvette Kaiser-Smith, Beverly Kedzior, Daniel Kim, Kelly McCormick, Robert McGuire, Jennifer Scott McLaughlin, Elizabeth Opalenik, Michael Parker, Michael Ratulowski, Tricia Rumbolz, Stephanie Serpick, Dylan Vitone, David Weinberg, and Rhonda Wheatley. This is the final show at Weinberg Gallery.
David Weinberg Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St., #203. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Elliott Erwitt.
Stephen Daiter Gallery is located at 230 W. Superior. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Deborah Baker, Michael Krueger, and Dominic Paul Moore, respectively.
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Gerard Byrne.
The Renaissance Society is located at 5811 S. Ellis Ave., Cobb Hall 418. Reception is Sunday from 4-7pm, with and artist talk from 5-6pm.