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"Myself, I Think We Should Keep Collecting Titles"
Exhibition of work by Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University will present 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. The exhibition is part of a graduate arts and humanities course, "Contemporary Art and the Amateur," and will open on Thursday, September 19 with a reception at 6:00 p.m. in the Lucas Gallery at 185 Nassau Street. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

According to Joe Scanlan, professor and Director of the Program in Visual Arts at the Lewis Center, the exhibition will feature hundreds 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.

David Dobkin at home with some of his collected objects.

"The actual title of the show is itself a collection of prospective and cast off titles," notes Scanlan, "None of which seemed capable of capturing the spirit of the show on their own."

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. The focus of his research as a computer scientist is the application of theoretical tools to the understanding of the processes underlying computation particularly in the geometric/graphical realm. In addition, he has strong interests in the impact of information technology on society. Dobkin holds bachelors and masters degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in applied mathematics from Harvard University. He has also taught at the University of Arizona and Yale University.

"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 (more than 800), postcards (filling 11 shoeboxes and covering three full walls), pictures of people in phone booths from around the world, and sculptures devised from found objects. He has no formal training as an artist, perhaps aligning him with an eclectic group of "self-taught" or "visionary" artists, many of whose work, while outside the mainstream of the art world, has come to be viewed as significant. Examples of such artists include Henry Darger, James Castle, and Judith Scott. Castle and Scott's work were featured in a recent survey of German artist Rosemarie Tröckel's encyclopedic retrospective at the New Museum, New York, last spring, at Tröckel's request.

According to Scanlan, Dobkin's work also 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 defies traditional notions of composition and taste--as in the work of Sol LeWitt, Bernd & Hilla Becher or Tony Feher. "How David and his work relate to any of these artists is an open question," says Scanlan. "That was part of my inspiration for organizing the exhibition and seminar. The amateur, and amateurism, are hotly contested topics in contemporary art."

Among Dobkin's first works was a sculpture inspired by a childhood fascination with beaded curtains, which led him to make a set of curtains from Dannon yogurt lids and paperclips. Examples of other works include a collection of photographs he has taken of the menus and waiters at many of the places he has dined; indexical groupings of all manner of postcards by genre; and over 700 pounds of pennies sorted by year and mint stored in a system of custom-made acrylic towers.

The exhibition 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 and is an integral aspect of the graduate course being taught by Scanlan, developed in consultation with Jeff Dolven, director of the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. The course also involves faculty from the departments of Classics, English, Philosophy, and the Program in Theater, along with the Princeton University Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art P.S. 1 Museum in Queens, New York.

"The course and the exhibition explore the concept of the amateur as a liberated novice, a non-professional, a 'lover of things,'" explains Scanlan. "David is a great example of a person whose proclivities are perfectly manifested as works of art, regardless of his formal training. Like many artists, David notices objects and material flows that most people don't, and he combines them in ways that not only reveal his aesthetics and thought processes, but also spark curiosity and visual delight in the people who see them.

While Scanlan and Dobkin want to keep some of the surprise factor for visitors to the exhibition, they revealed that one wall will be collaged with images from Dobkin's many photographic collections, and, according to Scanlan, "a specially constructed room--casually referred to as 'the brain'--that will be an exact replica of the room in Dobkin's house where he 'cooks up' many of his ideas."

The exhibition will run through Friday, October 4. The Lucas Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

To learn more about the Lucas Gallery, the Program in Visual Arts, and other activities presented at the Lewis Center visit

Photo link:
Photo caption: David Dobkin at home with some of his collected objects.
Photo credit: Photo by Julian Germain

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Event Information


Exhibition runs:
September 19 -
October 4, 2013

Opening reception:
Thursday, September 
19 at 6:00 p.m.

Open weekdays:
10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Lucas Gallery

Lewis Center for the Arts
at 185 Nassau Street
Princeton University

Free and open to the public




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