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Museum curator, devourer of fiction

Dina Deitsch: Museum curator, devourer of fiction

While she was working on her PhD thesis, Dina Deitsch got a one-year gig at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Four short years later she is now the museum’s senior curator. Her thesis has languished but not the deCordova’s exhibit schedule. Three new shows opened last week at the museum in Lincoln, including one of works by sculptor Julianne Swartz.

BOOKS: What books about your specialties, video and architecture, do you recommend?

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DEITSCH: The best book about the history of video art is David Joselit’s “Feedback.” For architecture, I really liked Neil Leach’s “Camouflage.” It’s not about architecture per se but about how design can help us blend into our environment. I’m most interested in the psychology of architecture, of how we relate to it, and how it relates back. Now I have been getting into Thoreau because I am working on a show about artists and their relationship to Thoreau. His journals are great, but I’m having a hard time getting through “Walden.” My new personal challenge is going from contemporary to 19th-century sentence structure.

BOOKS: What do you read for pleasure?

DEITSCH: I’m a big fiction fan. I am in a book club that is reading authors on The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 list. Nicole Krauss’s “Great House” and Téa Obreht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” were both recent reads and were fantastic. We took a break from that list, and now we’re reading Madeleine Albright’s “Prague Winter.” I am also in the middle of “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

BOOKS: Do you read the novels to offset the heavier art reading for your job?

DEITSCH: Yes. For a while I wasn’t that good about it, and it was a sad. About a year ago I realized I needed a heavy dose of fiction in my life to make my art reading matter.

BOOKS: When did you read the most?

DEITSCH: In college I wasn’t the biggest reader. Then I discovered reading seriously because of the Calvin Tomkins biography of Marcel Duchamp, a completely seductive read, which also sealed my career fate. I was deciding between being a veterinarian and art history. Generally, though, I don’t tend to love artist biographies, so I don’t read them that often. One of the books on my to-read list is “Martin Kippenberger” by Susanne Kippenberger, the biography of a pivotal German artist who died in 1997. He had a persona that was bigger than life. But I typically like memoirs better.

BOOKS: What memoirs have you read and liked?

DEITSCH: Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family.” I wasn’t that much of a fan of “The English Patient,” but his memoir is incredibly powerful. Shalom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament” is another favorite. He writes these hilarious stories about growing up in this restrictive society. Like him, I grew up in an orthodox Jewish family.

BOOKS: Did that upbringing influence your reading in any way?

DEITSCH: My mother is a huge reader, which has nothing to do with our religion. She reads about three books a week. I’m the youngest of five daughters. We all remember her on the couch reading, as we’d be turning the furniture upside down. She wouldn’t even notice. I like being around avid readers because it makes me strive. My husband is very rigorous. He read the British writer Anthony Powell’s 12-volume-set “A Dance to the Music of Time” before he went to law school, and because Powell reminded him of Marcel Proust, he somehow read all seven volumes of “In Search of Lost Time” in law school. All his authors tend to be dead. And if he reads them they tend to die not long after. He picked up a book by W.G. Sebald just as he died. I worry about the writers he reads who are still alive. He’s reading Richard Ford right now.

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