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Review: German and Dutch Artists' Books in New York City



What was that bit again about "the two recurrent poles of all culture...
torn halves of an integral freedom, to which however they do not add up?"
One single exhibition of artists' books occupies three separate venues in
New York City (or rather, occupied, since one of the shows has closed).
Each venue reveals a philosophy of book-making that is radically
different from the others, as if the curator, Michael Glasmeier, had
decided in each case to present one side of an ongoing argument about what
artists' books should be.

At Brooke Alexander the theme is unpleasure as a revolutionary activity. A
wall text proudly affirms that the works are deliberately un-beautiful,
un-original, each one a little frontal attack on the fetishization of art.
There are over 650 books, divided into overlapping categories: "Authors
and Theorists," "Fluxus and Happenings," "Painters and Drawers" [sic].  Of
those, 625 could have been described by Adorno as "autistically advanced."
At lot of this is due to the display, which manages to make the books look
musty, self-important and puritanical, but my memory is that most of these
books looked musty, self-important and puritanical even in the 'sixties.
There is a touch of color (literally), and a good deal of pleasure, in
Dieter Rot's recycled comic books. It's almost the only color in the show.

Bound & Unbound presents the opposite tack: what Adorno called the
"collusively popular." Boekie Woekie is a book artists' cooperative store
in Amsterdam (with offset presses attached). The claim to formal
radicalism is made here too, though not against books as beautiful per se.
As one of the artists states: he is "afraid of books which are perfect"
because they play "their role in the power games through the ages." Oh
well. That leaves me out...

That said, these books are far more cheerful, and occasionally witty in a
formal way, as in, for instance, a flip book by Jan Voss in which the
foredge design plays a part, or the commonplace of a book filled with
crossed-out words, by Runa Thorkelsdottir - except that this time the
cross-outs are color-coded according to a system. All in all, though, the
show's "Pat the-Bunny." cheerfulness seems a touch overdone. Love is
beautiful, man.

The Goethe Institut has just closed an exhibition of Helmut Dirnaichner:
large sheets of paper made (mostly) of earth and crushed minerals. Each
sheet is lightly inscribed with one or two simple patterns; each sheet is
framed and placed on the wall. The only indication that these are books at
all is the slight fold at the center of each sheet, emphasizing the
balance of either page; yet that is enough to suggest a certain dynamic of
reading, a tension between the infinitesimal symbolic function and the
massive (and symbolic) weight of the pigment. One wants to wonder if this
conforms to the idea of a book at all; but then this is the only one of
these shows that doesn't try to hide behind its own ideas.

There are a also few works from Germany for sale and on display at Printed
Matter.


"Buecher der Kuenstler: Thirty Years of Artists's Books in Germany."
Brooke Alexander, 59 Wooster Street, 925-4338. Through September 16.

"Boekie Woekie, Amsterdam."  Publisher and artists' bookstore
Bound and Unbound, 601 West 26th St.
463-7348. Through September 18.

"The Artists' Books of Helmut Dirnaichner." Goethe Institut, 1014 Fifth
Ave., 439-8700. Closed July 24.

Printed Matter is at 77 Wooster Street. 925-0464


***************************************************************************
Paul Werner, New York City
http://pages.nyu.edu/~ptw1
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