Brian Dettmer’s book art


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At first glance, Brian Dettmer’s work might look like collage, but it’s really the inverse. Instead of layering images and text on top of each other, he treats books -- his main medium -- like blocks of marble, carving away to reveal complex three-dimensional creations. He has explained his process this way:

In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose a book’s hidden, fragmented memory. The completed pieces expose new relationships of a book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.


If carving away big chunks of books doesn’t sit well with you, realize he frequently uses reference books, which tend to get purged from shelves when they go out of date. He’s got one piece constructed of a children’s encyclopedia set, and another encyclopedia-based series. The argument could be made that Dettmer is recycling landfill-bound materials, but that seems beside the point.

To me, what’s important that he’s created beautiful objects that deconstruct our idea of codfiying knowledge in something static and linear; by riffling through dictionaries with surgical precision, he constructs different meanings, with overlapping images and bits of text, than Daniel Webster could ever have imagined.

Brian Dettmer has done other kinds of work, too. There are the pretty -- and surprisingly political -- sculptures from wallpaper sample books. His mound-style pieces are so rounded and polished that reference books appear to be carved wood. He’s also constructed sculptures from melted cassette tapes.

His work is shown by New York’s Kinz-Tillou and Feigen Gallery, the Toomey-Tourell Gallery in San Francisco and the MiTO Gallery in Barcelona.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

After the jump: photos of more pieces by Brian Dettmer, his process, and one before-and-after.

Above: Mound 3. Below: how Dettmer works.

Above: Kingdom. Below: The Connoisseur’s Complete Guide.

Thanks to Nigel Beale who looked at some of Dettmer’s work two weeks ago, and Boing Boing which pointed to it last year.

All photos: Kinz-Tillou and Feigen Gallery.