Allen Ruppersberg

Article excerpt

If Allen Ruppersberg has always had a severe case of bibliomania conceptualis so much the better for us. His most recent show investigated the secret lives of books - as admired and debased objects, embodiments of a zeitgeist, and repositories of laughter, value, and mourning.

Portraits of books were presented as though the tomes themselves were famous personages. Fiction, 1991, is a drawing of a book whose cover modestly declares: "Good Stories by the Best Authors of the Day. 10 cents." This piece sets the show's tone: tongue-in-cheek reverence mixed with sly elegance. Low to High, 1994-96, gives us republished versions of books from the '20s, '30s, and '40s stacked on a library-ish mahogany staircase with the words PRESENT and ABSENT inlaid on the vertical faces of alternating steps. Some of the volumes are exact reproductions of old books, others sport the original covers of old editions but the pages are blank. Are these books paired with their own ghosts or are they tabulae rasae? This piece has a complex conceptual sub-text. It attempts to evoke a historical moment by reproducing the popular novels likely to have been read by soldiers who fought in World War II's 1944 Battle of Arnhem. Ruppersberg's penchant for linking literature to his art production is so strong it's as though books were a species of sacred animal he had decided to breed because he could not get enough of their company.

This playful show was delicately balanced between the giddy and the grave. Here Ruppersberg toyed with issues of the handmade versus the mass-produced, and with high/low dichotomies, by redrawing mechanically printed texts and by presenting low-brow or expendable forms of writing as though they were precious and deeply significant. …