Last fall, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University presented a unique exhibition of sculptures, photo-collages, and site-specific installations by Dean of the Faculty and professor of computer science David Dobkin, a self-identified amateur artist who collects and creatively repurposes a vast array of things from daily life. A collection of essays written by Princeton scholars in response to the exhibition will be unveiled on Tuesday, May 13th, at 6:00 p.m. at Labyrinth Books.
The book—which is in fact four books, each focusing on a different aspect of Dobkin’s exhibition—was designed by students enrolled in an Advanced Graphic Design course under the tutelage of lecturer David Reinfurt. The student designers are Lauren Lewis ’14, Jenny Liu ’14, José Meza ’GS, Cara Michell ’14, and Matt Rogers ’15. According to Reinfurt, the overriding concept that the students developed over the course of the fall semester was that a book chronicling the array of such an extreme collector as David Dobkin should be a collection in and of itself. Hence there are four books instead of one, each of which can be purchased separately, in pairs, or as a complete set.
Dobkin’s exhibition, titled “Myself, I Think We Should Keep Collecting Titles,” featured thousands of objects including snow globes, popsicle sticks, water bottle caps, Snapple lids, compact discs, keyboards, mother boards, paper tubes, credit cards, safety rings, fasteners, postcards, and pennies, as well as hundreds of photographs of food items, menus, waiters, signs, phone booths, friends, and colleagues.
“From an early age, I was possessed by a compulsion to collect and organize objects,” explains Dobkin, “and my art follows this compulsion.” He notes he is a student of American kitsch with major collections of snow globes, postcards, pictures of people in phone booths from around the world, and sculptures devised from found objects. According to Joe Scanlan, Director of the Program in Visual Arts, Dobkin’s work has affinities with trained or “professional” artists, particularly modern art’s fascination with the idea of collection—as exemplified in the work of Arman, Louise Nevelson or Marcel Broodthaers—and contemporary art’s interest in “anti-aesthetics,” in which artists devise rules, systems, or other means for making art that defy traditional notions of composition and taste—as in the work of John Baldessari or Hanna Darboven.
“How David and his work relate to any of these artists is an open question.” explains Scanlan, “That was part of my inspiration for organizing the exhibition, and fundamental to my desire to ask fourteen scholars from all across campus to address that question from their particular points of view.” The resulting essays by University faculty, staff, and former students published in the collection are by Jill Dolan, Brigid Doherty, Sandra Gillette, Adam Finkelstein and Teresa Riordan, Isabel Flower, Hal Foster, Diana Fuss, Naomi Leonard, Steve Mackey, Jeff Nunokawa, Joe Scanlan, Valerie Smith, James Steward, and Susan Wheeler.
Dobkin, a resident of Princeton and on the faculty of the University since 1981, is the Phillip Y. Goldman ’86 Professor of Computer Science at Princeton. In 2003 he was appointed Princeton’s Dean of the Faculty and will be stepping down from that post at the end of the current academic year.
The publication is cosponsored by the Program in Visual Arts in the Lewis Center and Princeton’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities, with the support of The David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project Fund and the Lewis Center for the Arts.
The book launch and celebration will last until 7:00 p.m. Labyrinth Books is located at 122 Nassau Street and is open Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.