March 1, 2019
Dear Dairy: artist makes book out of cheese
by Tom Clayton
Last year we reported on the varied and occasionally distressing objects people used as bookmarks and subsequently returned to public libraries. It was gross.
Chief offender among these objects, according to an exasperated tweet from Washington-based librarian Anna Holmes, were Kraft singles, the uniquely, erm, durable plastic-encased cheese slices.
Now, Abigail Cain at Atlas Obscura, among others, reports that artist Ben Denzer, head of micro-publisher Catalog Press, has cut out the middle man, filling an entire book with cheese. American Cheese / 20 Slices, seen here with the rest of the Catalog Press range, is a yellow bound hardcover containing 20 slices of American cheese, and was acquired by Jamie Lausch Vander Broek at the University of Michigan’s Library of Art & Design last year.
American Cheese represents another step forward in Denzer’s playful experiments with the forms of both books and food: ‘Ice cream, American cheese slices, and ketchup packets are all part of a shared culture. It’s a way to have some understanding of an audience, to play around with expectations and norms.’ Denzer’s other work includes 5 Ketchups (currently for sale at the Whitney), and an inflatable book jacket, designed to help you read while you swim.
Only 10 copies of American Cheese were produced, and the copy bought by Vander Broek is currently the only one held by a library. In an article for Saveur, she describes how Denzer contacted her with details of the book, and other examples of his work:
Catalog Press’s other publications include 200 one-dollar bills arranged in serial number order, and a tiny volume of Chinese restaurant fortunes. Nothing struck me as quite as wild and weird as the cheese book, however, so I had to get it.
Vander Broek goes on to describe the reaction to the $200 American Cheese acquisition, which was originally stored in a fridge at Denzer’s studio, but is officially ‘shelf stable’ in a sandwich container (for now):
Some people—especially librarians, particularly book catalogers at other institutions—were mad when I bought the cheese book. This surprised me. I thought that people would laugh, or crinkle up their faces in bewilderment. Their anger reminded me of reactions to color field paintings; people seemed divided between “I could do that,” and “that’s an insult to books!”
Insult or not, this rarebit of publishing won’t be around forever. So whether you find American Cheese grating or not, you’d better return it by its (fon)due date.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.