Saturday, January 9, 2010

Modern Painters

Modern Painters (from 1873), 2008
Brian Dettmer
Altered Book
9 1/8 x 7 x 6 3/4 inches
image: Kinz + Tillou Fine Art

I am not sure if I've shared one of Dettmer's altered books yet. I was reading an article about writing and manuscripts in Timbuktu and quickly thought of finding an altered book for today's art.

I, like many, used to have a particular reaction to works such as this. As a librarian, reader and book lover I found it difficult to see what many would call the destruction of a book. Over the years I've become not only okay with it but find the resulting works of art fascinating. This is all that Brian Dettmer does, he is a sculptor but his material is not just paper but existing books. Most of the books he uses are old editions of encyclopedias and atlases. Mass produced volumes that over time just get pushed away. Why not create a new and much less static life for this object?

This particular work is not one of the most amazing in aesthetic but I chose it because of the book itself, Modern Painters by John Ruskin. An interesting play between text, art, the old and the new. I have a lot of more trouble with the use of this 19th c. volume, a classic in the history of art (it appears that the 1873 should be 5 volumes and is currently selling for between $200 and $500 depending on condition). I am unsure as to why he only used 3 volumes (earlier editions had less volumes) unless there was an 1873 3 volume set published. Anyway, the set wouldn't be considered rare and once you spend some time looking at Dettmer's work you stop seeing any form of destruction. The term, "altered book" is fitting, especially when the artist retains the semblence of a book. When you still know it's a book, the object retains a variety of lives and meanings.

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