New Mixed Medium Works

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Book of the Dead, 2008 Altered Books 9 X 8 X 7 Inches © Brian Dettmer
New Mixed Medium Works

49 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
September 1st, 2009 - September 30th, 2009
Opening: September 10th, 2009 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM

Closed as of April 2015
installation, conceptual, sculpture


Toomey Tourell Fine Art is pleased to announce a solo exhibition entitled “New Mixed Medium Works” by the artist Brian Dettmer.

Excerpts from an essay on Brian Dettmer by Dewitt Cheng:

“Information is the raw material of ideas and my interventions into books are parallels to what is assumed as normal in newer communication while at the same time they are explorations into ideas of the past.”- Brian Dettmer

Bibliophiles may still proudly survey their well-stocked bookshelves and exult in their well-furnished minds, but the library of yore seems quaint in the communications free-for-all of the contemporary world, where the very idea of complete and definitive knowledge, especially knowledge organized around any single world view, myth or narrative, has disappeared like a broken link. Today we accept that all meaning is contingent and temporary, like the infinite volume of Jorge Luis Borges story, “The Book of Sand,” with its randomly numbered pages which can never be seen more than once.

Creating meaning in such a decentered entertainment-obsessed culture would seem impossible, but Dettmer creates visually and emotionally compelling works that remain open-ended and multivalent by harnessing expression through experimentation. He repurposes outdated reference books scavenged from garage sales and thrift stores when their titles, papers, bindings, or layouts suggest that collaboration with the books’ absent publishers, editors and illustrators may bear fruit.

“I begin by sealing an existing book. I carve one layer at a time, maintaining or discarding ideas and images of interest. None of the interior is relocated or implanted, only removed.” – Brian Dettmer

Choosing either to excise images or leave them intact is, of course, a binary, digital process, and Dettmer’s archaeological excavation, one page at time, could be diagrammed with a complex decision tree, the final work being the solution. While the process is simple, the results are not. The dead imagery and verbiage of the old books comes alive as the accretions fall away, as pictures stripped of darkened varnish lighten and brighten. The freed elements engage each other in new ways, like the incongruously juxtaposed objects in Dadaist or Surrealist collages. Dettmer: “Images and words … slip from field to field when they are extracted from their original context, and [even] sterile, scientific elements can become very poetic and relevant in new ways when they are exposed in a new context.” The books become microcosms or dioramas – vanished worlds in their glorious plenitude, newly revealed and preserved.

In his essay, “The Wall and the Books,” Jorge Luis Borges considered China’s First Emperor, who began building the Great Wall and burned the history books; he postulated, based on these musings, that the esthetic experience involves “the imminence of a revelation that is not yet produced.” Dettmer’s works demand time, concentration and emotional investment from both maker and viewer, and they deliver Borges’ richly complex esthetic experience in abundance even if they remain as enigmatic and contradictory as life out here in the big book.