The small press masses united last weekend at the New York Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter at PS1.
With no admission charged, throngs of visitors went through the museum. Publishers used to working in small studios and home offices were packed together throughout the courtyard, exhibition spaces, and the boiler room.
The fair included thousands of art books ranging from monographs, to academic art surveys, to artist made books, zines, magazines, and theoretical writing. The inspiration concentrated there by the art book community was almost overwhelming. With festivities starting on Thursday, it wouldn’t have been possible to see all of the special exhibits of ephemera and artists scrapbooks, panel discussions about the evolving industry, and check out the oyster bar and book signings.
Publishers were able to share the stories behind the books with visitors. “It’s a big opportunity to spread our idea of what an art book is,” said Nicola Ricciardi, an editorial assistant at Mousse Publishing who was working their booth. There were so many friendly faces, and familiar ones too. But what I enjoyed most about the fair was meeting curators and publishers in the flesh and learning about presses I had never come across before. Here are a handful of the many that impressed me.
1. Draw Down Books displayed books with bright, simple designs. Their title “Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films” is just that; a simple catalog of the architecture that movie villains seem to love. Kathleen, a former librarian, and her husband Christopher started Draw Down Books after doing commission work for publications. They realized working for themselves might be more satisfying. When I asked Kathleen what makes a good art book, she responded “Someone who is passionate about making an art book.” A successful book takes a lot on the part of the artist to commit to making a quality product that people want to make collectible. Luckily, the artists Draw Down cold call are usually pretty happy to collaborate.
2. The Badlands Unlimited booth had print books and a Kindle featuring their e-books. I spoke to Matthew So about Badlands Unlimited’s interests in publishing original, unexpected writings and work from artists and figures more well known for other things. Matthew So gave the example of their book “On Democracy” which includes three of Saddam Hussein’s speeches about Democracy. As described on the Badlands Unlimited website, “This volume takes the speeches as an opportunity to ask what democracy means from the standpoint of a notorious political figure who was anything but democratic, and to reflect on how promises of freedom and security can mask the reality of repressive regimes.” I think it is bold to publish these writings and challenge people to think critically about how manipulative and immoral a political speech can be.
3. Three Star Books caught my eye from their incredible Billboard Book Project (A large format poster available in different sized book editions). Three Star defines a book loosely and, with artists, will build large scale books, editions, and objects of different sizes and forms. A more traditional book series that caught my eye was Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s RGB. Gonzalez-Foerster organized archival photos by color and created red, green, and blue books.
4. Issue Press, based out of Grand Rapids, MI, set up a vending machine to distribute their small, delicate pamphlets. They also had other folded up hand designed and drawn work. One that really stuck out was Time Poor. For this project artists followed John Muir’s instructions for where to go on a 24-hour visit to Yosemite. They did everything he said and hand drew a map of where they went and illustrated what they saw.
P.S. The Brooklyn Book Festival was also this last weekend, look for coverage on the blog Thursday!