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Review: Johanna Drucker/Center for Book and Paper Arts

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page 6 from “Simulant Portrait”

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Book artist extraordinaire Johanna Drucker, who has done more than perhaps any other contemporary artist to increase the critical recognition of book as art form, is often most closely associated with language/concrete poetry and the avant-garde of the Bay Area scene in the 1970s and eighties; but her retrospective, “Druckworks,” at Columbia College’s Center for Book and Paper Arts evidences the astonishing depth and breadth of Drucker’s creative and critical work—and shows the artist and scholar deeply engaging with current aporias and future incarnations of the book as form. Some wall text—“We think we know what a book is… but a book is a snapshot, a slice across networked streams of conversations, ideas… a temporarily configured intervention in a living field”—could stand in for Drucker’s prolific career over the past forty years as she has been in conversation with poets, book artists, scholars, printers, graphic designers and cartographers nationally and internationally. Throughout, her primary concern with the visual and material dimension of text anchors the show as different threads (unreadable writing, ekphrasis, synesthesia, digital poetry, post-alphabetic writing in digital media) emerge from the dozens of books and works on paper, interrogating the relation between image and meaning from seemingly endless angles.

page 7 from “Simulant Portrait”

“Druckworks” is rigorous and unabridged, containing landmarks from Drucker’s career as a book artist (like the classic codex “A to Z”) and a scholar (many of her academic books are on display in conversation with the “creative” work), along with work that highlights the artist’s playful warmth as well as her conceptualism, from sensual abstract pastel “event” drawings to her prolific collection of one-off children’s books. The surprising intimacy of “Druckworks” extends to Drucker’s current critical work in digital humanities and digital art/laser-print book projects, showing the artist coming to terms with the changing nature of text’s presence and how easily traversable the gap between criticism and making art can continue to be. The most interesting pieces in the show comprise a series of mockups and illustrations of a few books-in-process that make visible Drucker’s intricate, tactile process of assembling books from layer upon layer of different two-dimensional materials. Almost beside the point is how jaw-droppingly prolific Drucker has been: contributing author to the 140-page catalog (with essays and interviews by everyone from Charles Bernstein to Marjorie Perloff, an opus in its own right), eleven scholarly books, thirty-nine artist books in twenty-eight special collections, and ten unpublished novels. (Monica Westin)

Through December 7 at the Center for Book and Paper Arts, Columbia College Chicago, 1104 South Wabash, second floor.

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