Monday, February 16th, 2009

Jim Dine: Hot Dream (52 Books) at PaceWildenstein

December 11, 2008 to February 7, 2009
534 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 929 7000

installation shot of the exhibition under review.
installation shot of the exhibition under review.

Jim Dine is famous nowadays for his images of bathrobes, hearts and tools,  and his  conservative public sculptures. A gifted draftsman, he is generally thought to be a minor  pop artist, occupying an honorable, modest place alongside Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. But  this astonishing installation could radically change how he is understood. Subdividing PaceWildenstein’s elegant 25th Street Chelsea space into a warren of  small rooms, it is an exercise in sensory overload gone mad. As he rightly notes, “I’m not, obviously, a minimalist.” Inexhaustibly ambitious, Dine created a book for each week of the year. Copies hang on a forest of hooks in one room. In other rooms you see large photographs of his tools and hearts, beautiful watercolors of tools, wall drawings, large sculptures and drawings and photographs of Santa Claus and Pinocchio,  many wall texts, often shown upside down, and a large bronze heart; and you hear tapes of him reading. How much you learn about Dine’s performances and books! “I want to know everything” he says. I cannot recall a one-gallery exhibition with so many objects on display.

Typically, installation art is political. It critiques the gallery system or our social institutions. Dine’s dazzling show does something totally different. For a long time, he has made book illustrations. Now this magnificent summary of that career displays the relationship between visual art and books. In the catalogue the Swiss curator Roland Scotti says: “We see a POEM, we read an IMAGE.” This is a familiar distinction: Baudelaire made it when he spoke of that “fatal consequence of decadence,” the trespassing of visual art on the world of the book. Decadent philosophic art, he writes, feels “its duty to juxtapose as many successive images as are contained in whatever sentence . . . it might wish to express.” By including literally EVERYTHING that matters to him in this display, is that not exactly what Dine accomplishes? He is a great decadent, for  Hot Dream, a display we see AND read and hear, overcomes this opposition between seeing and reading, between visual art and poetry. Traditional books present linear narratives. But there is no obvious rhyme or reason to this totally non-linear display of the poetic contents of Dine’s mind. Pinocchio’s nose grew when he lied, and so he is a perfect role model for this artist whose magnificently chaotic installation presents the truthful lies of art. By now Dine must have a very long nose.