SPECIAL EXHIBITION AT THE NEW YORK ART BOOK FAIR
PS1, 26-29 SEPTEMBER
THE BEST AMERICAN BOOK OF THE 20TH CENTURY
the first sentence of the first best-selling book of 1900, as listed*;
the second sentence of the second best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the third sentence of the third best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the fourth sentence of the fourth best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the fifth sentence of the fifth best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the sixth sentence of the sixth best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the seventh sentence of the seventh best-selling book of 1900, as
the eight sentence of the eight best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the ninth sentence of the ninth best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the tenth sentence of the tenth best-selling book of 1900, as listed;
the eleventh sentence of the first best-selling book of 1901, as listed;
and so on up to the end of the century, to the thousandth sentence of the tenth best-selling book of 1999.
Each sentence is footnoted with its reference.
Ten sentences form one paragraph, representing one year.
Ten paragraphs form one chapter, representing one decade.
The book represents a century: the American Century.
In constructing ‘The Best American Book of the 20th Century’, artist cooperative Société Réaliste replaces the proper nouns by pronouns. This slightly enhances the original text and enables a selected overview of the history of Best American Fiction in one condensed, ambitious novel.
SUBJECT IN CONTEXT
As ‘The Best American Book of the 20th Century’ travels through the textual materiality of an entire century of mass-produced literature, it suggests intertextual relationships between the narratives of American fiction. Since a multitude of changes in time and culture converse in the book, the project transverses the usual, formal standards of language, questioning power dynamics between reader and writer. Are Pearl S. Buck, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, Daphne du Maurier, J. D. Salinger, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison basically telling a similar story? Do they, through this project, become the collective authors of one, all-encompassing- book? Is the project an opportunity to re-assess and reflect upon modernity’s spell on our collective imagination? And, ultimately, how does its composed text resonate in our present times?
OBJECT IN CONTEXT
Pockets brought literature to the masses by turning books into best sellers. Contrary to high-end prints the design of these pockets, cheap and mass-produced, was fit to serve the distribution system. Often effectively well–boxed, they were proportioned to maximize the box’s content and carrying-ability and were taggedto increase recognizability for the man handling the boxes rather than to make them look good.
The accompanying exhibition is conceived as a stock-sale of the book, in which the mass-produced and standardized presentation materials resonate with familiar formats of 20th century modes of book distribution and display. The standard cardboard boxes utilized as distribution and display devices represent functional carriers of the circulation of mass fiction throughout the previous century, and, for a significant part, up to this day. This project is brought to exhibition as a “stockroom-booksale”, resonating the symptoms of mass-distribution as visualized both on a sculptural and a graphic, formalized level. It presents a unique opportunity to display the boxes both as singular units on bookshop counters and as miniature sculptures in exhibition contexts, hinting at the standardized logistical and economic infrastructures behind each book purchase and art display.
Design agency Project Projects translated these ambitions in the publication’s graphics, in close collaboration with the editorial team. Curator Niels van Tomme served as scenographic advisor, Onomatopee director Freek lomme facilitated final editing and production: exhibition space and publisher Onomatopee provides an institutional framework for the presentation and distribution of this project, making ‘The Best American Book of the 20th Century’ its 100th project issue (OMP100).
* The 20th-Century American Bestsellers Database consists of work done by undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois, Catholic University, and Brandeis University, from 1998 to the present, using the rankings from Bowker’s Annual/Publisher’s Weekly.