Art In America

John Dowd

at Printed Matter,
231 11th Avenue

Active in the 1970s mail-art scene, those subcultural networks that produced lowbrow hybrids of Conceptualism and Pop, John Dowd made zines and other forms of ephemeral correspondence that collaged celebrity photos from mainstream magazines and characters borrowed from Disney and Tom of Finland. Fanzini, the title of a serial publication that Dowd produced in collaboration with friends and admirers (who organized an informal John Dowd Fan Club), spiced up its genre's name by rhyming it with Houdini, evoking the hey-presto magic of the Xerox technology he used to copy and recontextualize images. In the small gallery at the rear of Printed Matter, all issues of Fanzini are on view in vitrines along with other zines, and various mail-art pieces and works on paper hang on the walls. One newsprint pinup is scattered with images of both members of British Invasion bands and the black American musicians whose forms they took and adapted. Some of the figures look like they were photographed together, while others are clearly collaged by Dowd's scissors and paste. The congregation is almost too festive, too inclusive, and comes off as a reminder of the issues of appropriation and erasure that it papers over. Three binders on a shelf, available for viewers to pick up and flip through, contain facsimiles of Dowd's experiments with the copy machine, where he began by making a copy of the Xerox machine's empty bed and then copied that, tracing the accumulation of dust and other noise with each iteration. Dowd's cheap reproducible medium was black-and-white, and his work explored both the social and formal ramifications inherent to that pairing. —Brian Droitcour


Pictured: View of the exhibition “The John Dowd Fan Club,” 2017, at Printed Matter, New York.

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