Fetish Objects: a Little Known Bret Easton Ellis Side Project
A screen-print of a leopard by artist Matthew Brannon
In the second installment of Fetish Objects, the Manhattan rare book dealer and publisher, Glenn Horowitz, gives us the scoop on Mr. Bret Easton Ellis / Mr. Matthew Brannon, a collaboration between artist Matthew Brannon and the Bennington author (class of ‘86). The book consists of 13 letterpress prints from Bret Easton Ellis’s seminal first novel Less Than Zero (selected by the artist himself), paired with cheerful screen-prints by Brannon of liquor bottles, Hollywood awards, and other 1980s artifacts.
Glenn Horowitz corresponded with Literary Bennington over email about Matthew Brannon, “the real deal, a true artist,” as he says. He also explained to us the difference between books and art objects (“books are meant to be consumed, lived with as intimate companions”) and educates us on what constitutes a “rare” book versus merely an expensive one.
Literary Bennington: What initially sparked your interest in publishing excerpts from Bret Easton Ellis’s work together with these prints by Matthew Brannon? Why print the Ellis excerpts using letterpress?
Glenn Horowitz: When Matthew Brannon and I agreed to exhibit his work in our East Hampton gallery we also agreed to publish a book. Matthew is a highly literate artist, which, I believe, is reflected in his work. Thinking about a writer with whom to confederate on the book, I asked Matthew which authors and which texts had influenced him. I don’t remember now which ones he sent back in his response but I think almost all were dead—which would make publishing a signed edition kind of tough. However, Bret and Less Than Zero was on Matthew’s Greatest Hits list.
Why print letterpress? Why not print letterpress? Surely the bite of type into handmade paper is even better than biting into a ripe pineapple. The feel of raised ink on paper is one of the treats of making a book.
A passage from Less Than Zero printed on letterpress
LB: Did Matthew Brannon let you in on how he selected the 13 short excerpts from Bret Easton Ellis’s two novels? How did you deal with text and image in the gallery show?
GH: After I shared Matthew’s work with him Bret was game to collaborating, though he also said he didn’t have time to write an original essay. At first I thought then forget it, but knowing how Matthew felt about Less Than Zero I didn’t want to leave the playing field prematurely. It was then that I came up with idea of letting Matthew curate Less Than Zero, excerpting passages that he felt reflected the cause of his attachment to the novel.
Bret, in my experience an easy going soul, had no objections and our book was born. The texts that Matthew selected only appeared in the book–none were used in any way whatsoever in the gallery.
LB: What is your personal connection or feeling towards both Bret Easton Ellis’s writing and Matthew Brannon’s artworks?
GH: I’m not wealthy enough to patronize artists and writers simply because they are artists and writers–as much as I might wish I could. I admire Bret’s accomplishment and believe he’s a major novelist with an enduring reputation. The fact that I opted to both show and publish Mr.Brannon’s work says it all: he’s the real deal, a true artist.
A Seagram’s whiskey bottle by Matthew Brannon
LB: The prints by Matthew Brannon are composed of cheerful, simplistic shapes and light, almost gleeful colors. The light blues and pink create an almost fantasy-like feeling. How does this relate to the disaffected youth in Ellis’s L.A. novels? Is their life in L.A. something of a fantasy?
GH: I’ve always felt that Bret’s work was both distended, Lewis Carroll-like, from the realities of the worlds in which they are set and that there is something reductionist and ironic about the flatness with which he depicts them. Maybe no one else feels that Ellis and Brannon are a suitable coupling but the book suggests clearly that I did.
LB: How does it feel to re-read these excerpts from Less Than Zero now? Does it read to you like a novel written by an undergraduate?
GH: I suspect that some of the notoriety Less Than Zero received at publication derived from Bret’s tender age but now, no, the passages we printed strike me as unequivocally and fully realized prose by a dedicated writer.
LB: Which do you like better: Being a publisher or a gallerist? Would you ever leave your day job for either?
GH: Those are my day jobs–or at least elements of my profession. I don’t divide my energies amongst the tasks that make up my job as a dealer in high-end material. I’ve been at them all now for so long many years that the various undertakings shoehorn together smoothly.
LB: Holding such a rare book in my hands felt quite extraordinary. I had never experienced this before: there are only 90 copies with a slipcase signed by the artist and the writer out of 250 copies in total. So the book is both a literary work and a visual artwork. Could you tell us how you feel about the book as an art object?
GH: This question, though poignant, is off base. A rare book is a book that “rarely” appears in the market. A true rare book, rather than an expensive book, might show up in commerce once every three or four years.
What would be an example of a rare book? When The Grapes of Wrath sold 100,000 copies Viking, to commemorate that event, took 10 copies of their current printing–the fifth–and bound up ten in three quarter morocco, numbered those copies, and printed a special colophon stating that those copies had been issued to celebrate the novel’s great success. Find one of those 10 copies. Those are legitimately rare books. Most other expensive books are that–expensive books. Hence one of the reasons I endeavor to deal in unique material–inscribed books, letters, manuscripts.
So in the case of the Ellis/Brannon book, one isn’t dealing in the world of rare books. And knowing that all copies, both the signed ones in a slipcase and 250 in paper wrappers, were sold for a hefty publication price means that almost all copies will survive and there should always be a regular supply in the resale market. Buy a book on Amazon for 18 bucks and get bored reading it on a long flight and you wouldn’t hesitate to leave it on a plane. Buy one of these books for multiples of 100’s of dollars and bingo, on to the shelf it goes almost immediately.
About the book as an artwork? That, to me, is a stretch. Some books, with the passage of centuries, may look like an object of art but books are intended to be consumed, lived with as intimate companions, not hung on the wall for public consumption–and that, I think, is one of the biggest distinctions between art objects and books, albeit probably a gross distinction.