Arts & Culture News

Baffling, Elaborate and Beautiful, The Magician Rewrites the Rules on Art Books

This magician's crate wouldn't quite fit as a carry-on. It's a custom-built blend of wood and metal, perched on casters, painted black and decorated by a white rope pattern that crisscrosses its width. It serves as a sculptural rolling library for the 12 books hiding inside. They slide in and out with the same satisfying thud you'd get from pushing a blade into an old magician's compartment trick. And while most of them are paper-based and of varying sizes, one "book" is actually a series of microscope slides, usable through a light-up ocular lens installed into the crate's top. Another is an LED screen that plays a five-minute video animation when plugged into a special hat. Barely any of them contain words, but together they might hold the secret to the universe.

This is The Magician, the most complicated art book currently in production. And it's coming out of Dallas.

Author Chris Byrne, who's also co-founder of the Dallas Art Fair, laughs while he explains the project -- and with a tone that sounds a lot like a dare. What you notice as he flips through the pages is his fairly cunning way of not explaining The Magician's thesis.

He will tell you about the little things that make it so special, like how each piece is uniquely bound, some portions by hand at Tieton, a tiny incubator community of artisans, cider pressers and makers of fine books in Central Washington, founded by The Magician's publisher, Ed Marquand.

Or how others are made out of unconventional materials, like the card-trick flip book whose textured pages replicate the quilted print of toilet paper. Achieving that look required hand-stamping each page out of letter press, something that simply isn't done in bookmaking. But the more conceptual elements, the theory and perceptions you glean from interacting with the work -- and it is interactive -- those are things Byrne would rather not influence or interpret.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin