Brian Dettmer, the Book Surgeon


Written by Valentina Romano

Brian Dettmer is a New York-based artist known for his incredibly detailed sculptures, which gave him the nickname of “Book Surgeon”.

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Indeed, Brian makes unique artworks that feature brain and internal organs, and the peculiarity of his pieces is that they are all made of old books.


This artist manages to turn flat and boring dusty books into 3D colourful objects.

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His works are exhibited at Smithsonian (D.C.), Museum of Arts and Design (NY), Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (VA), Museum of Contemporary Art (GA), Museum Rijswijh (Netherlands), Wellcome Collection (England), the Bellevue Arts Museum (WA), The Kohler Arts Center (WI), and the Illinois State Museums (IL). In addition to these museums, Brian’s sculptures can also be found in private collections in the US, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.


This talented sculptor states that the reason why he uses books to make his artworks is because

The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered as the monopoly of the form and relevance of the information fades over time. The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge. This is the area I currently operate in. Through meticulous excavation or concise alteration I edit or dissect communicative objects or systems such as books, maps, tapes and other media. The medium’s role transforms. Its content is recontextualized and new meanings or interpretations emerge.

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Brian also explains step-by-step the process he follows to make the sculptures:

In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the surface of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each layer while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose alternate histories and memories. My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.

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(All the photos are taken from, and all belong to their original owners)

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