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Art Crush:

October 17, 2012

Texts and Subtext: ATL Artist Brian Dettmer’s “Elemental” Exhibit Opens at MOCA-GA

Dettmer’s intricate book sculptures comment on the value of loaded texts in the age of 140-character texting.

By Nancy Staab

Just call him Biblio-Boy. Book-carver and transformer of analog mediums, Brian Dettmer, brings his latest artistic musings on history, the information age, the encyclopedic impulse and the diminishing efficacy of the printed book to MOCA-GA Friday, Oct. 20, with the opening of his Working Artist Project-supported exhibit “Elemental.”

The artist Brian Dettmer and his book sculptures The artist Brian Dettmer and his book sculptures

We’ve long been fascinated with Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer’s meticulous, intricate, painstaking book sculptures. He literally cuts, pastes, dissects like a surgeon, and carves out old books into complex, encyclopedic, mini-cosmos that hint at the transporting worlds of information that books contain. And yet, there is also a sad subtext (pun intended) and pathos involved, since this old world “technology” has given way to newer, fleeter digital forms of communication and succinct sound-bites. Dettmer also works with other analog mediums like cassette tapes, maps and old vinyl records, but books are his main artistic building blocks. They are deconstructed and ransacked, only to be richly re-constructed by the artist. In Dettmer’s own words:  “Material and history are being lost, slipping and eroding, from a tangible constant to an endless series of mutations. The richness and depth of older books is universally respected yet often undiscovered as users need a quicker, slicker bite of information. The book’s intended function has decreased.”

On Oct. 20 Dettmer’s latest exhibition of work, “Elemental” will open at Museum of Contemporary Art-Georgia (MOCA-GA) as the final installment of the museum’s Working Artist Project (WAP), funded by a major grant from The Charles Loridans Foundation and additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts. The fund was established to support visual artists of merit who reside in the Atlanta metropolitan area and Dettmer certainly qualifies. He is not only represented locally by Saltworks Gallery, but his work has also been included in such prestigious national collections as the Museum of Art and Design in New York and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. In addition, his work has been covered in The New York Times, Art News, Modern Painters, The Village Voice, and more.

What to expect from Dettmer’s magical, book-centric universe? According to the artist, describing his current “Elemental” exhibit: “Encyclopedia sets merge to form tall towers and pixilated patterns as the symbols and ideas from the past are broken down to basic elements. Long rows of paperbacks are compressed and sanded into solid wooden forms. Books on games reveal new matrices as a result of strategy and chance. A chart inspired by a thesaurus follows thousands of potential paths of meaning that spring from a single word. Images of state flags are dissected and reconstructed to present a new vocabulary about locality from existing symbols of authority.” 

Don’t miss the opportunity to check out Dettmer’s latest analog artwork Oct. 19-Jan. 5 at MOCA-GA.

Brian Dettmer’s exhibition “Elemental” will be on show Oct. 20-Jan. 5 at MOCA-GA with an opening reception Friday Oct. 19 from 6:30-8:30PM. Dettmer will give an Artist Talk at the gallery Nov. 29 at 7PM with a reception beforehand at 6:30PM. The talk is free and open to the public. For more info:


A work by Brian Dettmer A work by Brian Dettmer


A work by Brian Dettmer A work by Brian Dettmer


A detail of an Encyclopedia Tower from Dettmer's current show at MOCA-GA A detail of an Encyclopedia Tower from Dettmer's current show at MOCA-GA