Buzz Spector: “Manual Style” at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery



Poet’s Lifemask
Buzz Spector
Internal dye diffusion print
26″ x 21″
Edition 1/10
Photo: courtesy Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

Buzz Spector loves books. He savors their fronts, backs, sides, tops and bottoms, he likes them racked and stacked and ready to be handled. Spector takes large photographs of multiple tomes posed in some intriguing and fetching array, sometimes documenting one of his sculptural installations of them, but also showing books just piled atop one another in some festive biblio daisy chain. In fact, Spector–as an artist, anyway–usually loves everything about books except their contents, he responds above all else to a book’s thingness, its objecthood, and only secondarily to it as a vessel of particular ideas. To Spector every book is a work on paper, and this exhibition–titled Manual Style–surveyed his immersion into them, mostly from the last decade, along with some of his collages and recent fiber and handmade paper pieces.

The photographs zip with energy and archival verve. Spector–currently Dean of the College and Graduate School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis–has piles of books stacked into a profile self-portrait (Poet’s Lifemask, 2006); documents the late poet Robert Creeley’s collection of books by Charles Olson (Creeley’s Olson, 2008); shows a Smithson-like ramp of books by faculty of Cornell University, where Spector used to teach, in his 2007 Bid Red C aka Learning Curve; and offers a kind of squarish hall church in Poiesis, 2008. In most cases we never see the fronts or spines of these books, it matters little to Spector (except in the Creeley example) if these are math textbooks or novels or books on Cezanne, it is their tactility and horizontal or vertical heft, their role as building blocks with some vestigial scholarly allure that interests him. But he always somehow conveys the sense that he knows each book intimately, that his handling and ceaseless rearranging of them is done with delight, a tactile fetish of bibliophilism.

No factoid of recent years caused me to blanch more than Amazon’s announcement that it now sells more e-books than ‘actual’ books. That the central vehicle of human thought for much of the last thousand years might be transitioning toward disappearance, that books might go the way of the vinyl LP, all curiously makes Buzz Spector’s work seem even more necessary. Like that scene in “Fahrenheit 451” where people walk to and fro reciting aloud the books they have individually memorized, living preservers of a tradition at risk, Spector’s abject/object bookishness also alludes to the tactile erotics of reading, making him an indispensable text-maniac.