365 Days of Art: December 5 – Dieter Roth Receives Award for Artist Books

December 5, 2014

Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (Literature Sausage), 1969, Ground pages of Halbzeit by Martin Walser, gelatin, lard, spices, in natural casing

Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (Literature Sausage), 1969, Ground pages of Halbzeit by Martin Walser, gelatin, lard, spices, in natural casing

December 5, 1960

Dieter Roth is awarded the William and Noma Copley Foundation Award for his artist books.

He’s credited as the inventor of this genre, where the book isn’t meant to be read in the way we might read a paperback novel, but to be appreciated as a work of art. For Roth, books don’t need to have text. They don’t need to have bindings or pages either.

Humor and wordplay are a staple of his work. He gleefully titles one book Schiesse (Shit). What author does this? A favorite pun is the proximity of his last name to the term “rot”, and he frequently works with food to emphasize this connection. Another book contains no pages per se, but labeled envelopes, inside of which are bits of vanilla pudding and mutton.

In the work above, Roth grinds up real pages of a book called Halbzeit by Martin Walser, then adds gelatin, lard and spices and puts the meaty mess in a casing. Voila! A book sausage, or a Literaturwurst.

Needless to say, his works are either a dream or a nightmare for art conservators. I went to a show at MoMA several years ago and the sweet smell of chocolate was surprisingly prevalent in the gallery, even 50 years after the creation of the works. There were stained and rotted sausages and cheeses, but thankfully I couldn’t smell those. Other exhibitions aren’t so sweet: there are stories of museum guards having to stand outside the gallery because of the putrid smell of rotting food.

I love this guy!

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