DAVID BYRNE, « DINGBATS », PACE NEW YORK

David Byrne – dingbats – Online exhibition – http://www.pacegallery.com – Oct 15 – Nov 2 – Rotating Selection – Oct 15 – Nov 2, 2020 – Pace New York, 540 West 25th Street.

dingbats is an online exhibition featuring fifty unique hand-drawn illustrations by interdisciplinary artist and musician David Byrne, made this year while isolating in his Manhattan apartment.

The dingbats drawings explore themes associated with daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, from uncanny scenes of domesticity to surreal figurative illustrations steeped in metaphor of a mind plagued by loneliness, boredom, and anxiety brought on by quarantine. They echo a unifying message through their sympathetic and humorous reflections on these tumultuous and uncertain times.

« Humor sometimes allows us to say the unspeakable. To diffuse the nightmare yet still somehow view it face on. So these seem to be about how it is to live right now. In this New World. » -David Byrne

The drawings will be released in five series of ten works published online every Monday and Thursday from October 15 to October 29, 2020, and will remain on view through November 2, 2020. A rotating series of ten drawings, reflecting the most recent selection in the online presentation, will also be on view at our New York location at 540 West 25th Street for the duration of the project.

All sales proceeds from the exhibition will benefit the Arbutus Foundation, Byrne’s non-profit organization dedicated to re-imagining the world through projects that inspire and educate.

This exhibition extends Byrne’s long-term relationship with Pace, marking the artist’s seventh collaboration with the gallery since 2003.

What means this dingbat?
By David Byrne Oct 15, 2020

This essay is published in conjunction with the online exhibition, David Byrne: dingbats, which features a series of drawings explore themes and preoccupations associated with daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, from uncanny scenes of domestic life to surreal figurative illustrations, seeped in metaphor of a mind plagued by loneliness, boredom, and anxiety brought on by quarantine, on view from October 15 through November 2, 2020.

I refer to these drawings as dingbats. Why?

To many people the word dingbat is a way to insult someone—to imply they are lacking intelligence. That is not intended the reference that connects the word to this series of drawings!—though some may claim otherwise. The series of drawings got started when my colleagues at Reasons To Be Cheerful suggested that I do a series of illustrations for the (then) upcoming We Are Not Divided series of pieces which are running now. I immediately replied to them « oh, you mean like dingbats! » and the response was « huh? »

I was thinking of the little drawings that are used in The New Yorker and other publications to visually break up imposing blocks of type. A row of asterisks, a bold sub-head, a row of bullets or stars accomplishes the same thing. We like markers as we read—paragraph indents, spaces, chapters—and stars or a tiny drawing of a flowerpot—they all do the same thing. They make reading easier and in most cases they don’t have to reference the story directly, but sometimes they echo the tone of the whole publication.

Where does the term originally come from?

The term, and the little illustrations, are relics from the days when type was set by hand. Graphic markers would be inserted to denote space or to give instruction to the printer. They were meaningless to anyone but the typesetter and the printer—hence the association with nonsense. These would be removed when the actual printing happened—but sometimes they got left in.

In digital typesetting there is even a font called Zapf Dingbats… it is entirely made of these symbols:
✐ ✑ ✒ ✓ ✔ ✕ ✖ ✗ ✘ ✙ ✚ ✛ ✜ ✝ ✞ ✟✠ ✡ ✢ ✣ ✤ ✥ ✦ ✧ ★
✩ ✪ ✫ ✬ ✭ ✮ ✯ ✰ ✱ ❍ ■ ❏☺ ☻ ♥ ♦ ♣ ♠ • ◘ ○ ❐ ❑ ❒ ▲
Zapf Dingbats

So, I kept the aspect that my drawings, the dingbats, did not have to relate in an obvious explicit way to the story… and that they similarly would serve to break up blocks of type… but I got a bit carried away and made them quite a bit more elaborate than the typical dingbat. I decided to give them titles too—and I soon realized that the titles became integral to the meaning of the drawings.

Living in a Dingbat
There is a 3rd meaning for dingbat. It is a name for a kind of apartment building that became prevalent in Southern California and Arizona in the 50s and 60s. They look like shoeboxes suspended on stilts—which allows the obligatory parked car to not take up precious real estate.


Barmysot. Example of « dingbat » apartment façade. Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Wikipedia says dingbats of this kind are known for their downmarket status and inexpensive rents.
The artist Ed Ruscha did a series of photos of them in a book. This one, pictured at right, from Wikipedia is named after a famous opera which implies some sort of class aspirations on behalf of this building.


ED RUSCHA – 1323 Bronson, 1965 – Gelatin silver print 4 5/8 x 4 3/4 in / 11.8 x 12 cm ©Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.


ED RUSCHA – 1326 N. Normandie, 1965 – Gelatin silver print 4 5/8 x 4 5/8 in / 11.7 x 11.8 cm – ©Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

We Are Not Divided: Arbutus Foundation

The drawings were created as part of We Art Not Divided, a collaborative, in-depth journalism project that explores the human capacity—and deeply human desire—to overcome division, in turn promoting a message of unity and bridging divides leading up to the U.S. election this November. We Art Not Divided is a special six-week project produced by the solutions-based online magazine Reasons to be Cheerful, the inaugural project of Arbutus: https://wearenotdivided.reasonstobecheerful.world

All images copyright David Byrne & Arbutus Foundation – Courtesy Pace Gallery

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