Books

8 Finds from the 2014 LA Art Book Fair

by Hrag Vartanian on February 3, 2014

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LOS ANGELES — This year’s Los Angeles Art Book Fair was by all accounts a huge success. The four-day event certainly shattered the previous year’s attendance record with 24,450 visitors (the 2013 fair attracted 15,000), and everyone I spoke to was excited by the quality and diversity of exhibitions, booths, and programming. If there was one thing I kept hearing about this year’s event, it was that the gathering at MOCA’s Geffen Center was “overwhelming” with 260 exhibitors showcasing or selling thousands of artist books, zines, catalogues, and other multiples — or as i prefer to think of it, a wonderland of page art.

lazine-320For my contribution to the artist book and zine economy, I gave myself a self-imposed budget of $100 and scanned the tables for finds to add to my (already unmanageable) book and zine collection.

While there were many high-priced items on display (one limited edition wall piece by Tauba Auerbach was price over $10,000), the vast majority were under $100 with many  as low as $20.

These were my selections, which represent the variety and range of what was available at the fair.

laabf-zine-8John Altoon: 40 Drawings catalogue from The Box, LA (LACMA Museum Store booth) ($20) — This straightforward catalogue includes dozens of drawings by a prominent Ferus Gallery-associated artist that is today less known than many of his Southern California contemporaries from the 1960s. Weirdly sexual, Altoon’s illustration-inspired work from the late 1960s oozes with a distinctive jittery line, enigmatic symbolism, and peculiar fantasies that float in clean white space.

laabf-zine2Franticham’s Playing with Dada (Redfoxpress and Antic-Ham booth) ($45) — A visual poem printed on old notebooks, Playing with Dada was one of the larger sized versions of Franticham’s work, which is carefully bound and wonderfully tactile because of all the textures he incorporates into his work. Irish bookseller Francis Van Maele was at the fair and had a prominent and attractive display of Franticham’s limited edition books (my copy came in an edition of 169), which celebrates classic typefaces, stock imagery, and colorful overlays.

laabf-zine-1Surf Disturbance by Captain Soncho, Grant Hatfield, Ed Templeton, and Devin Briggs (WSSF booth) ($10) — A response to Nick Waplington’s Surf Riot (shot in 1986, published in 2012), this photo zine documents the much smaller skirmish between police and surfers in 2013. The images tell a story of disenfranchised youth who seem eager to cause trouble, while people with cameraphones capture every moment. The design is attractive but the story — like the anger on display during the mini-riot — seems largely unfocused. As an added bonus, artist Ed Templeton was at the booth during the opening night of the fair signing copies for those who asked.

laabf-zine-7Law & Order: Special Victim zine by Red Hammer (Dale Wittig booth) ($5) — This was undoubtedly the most indie zine in my cache and it was also the most sexual. This work of … let’s call it fan fiction is a gay sex fantasy about Law & Order: SVU‘s Elliot Stabler character (played by gay icon Christopher Meloni) that includes illustrations of the hunky detective and a teenage sex abuse survivor in many compromising positions. The dialogue (“My wife’s my type.” “Yeah? Well, I got to say, detective, you’re kinda mine.”) and the imagery (shower scenes, jail cells … ) are the stuff gay porn fantasies are made of.

laabf-zine-3Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950) and Subject Matter of the Artist: Writings by Robert Goodnough, 1950–1965, edited by Helen A. Harrison (Soberscove Press booth) ($10 each) — Reprints of two classic books documenting the world of the New York School of art, the Chicago-based Soberscove Press has done us all a favor by making these small books available to a wider public. Filled with insights about the mind-set of painters (mostly male, mostly straight, and mostly white) during the 1950s and 60s, these quick reads (each is less than 80 pages) are handy resources with simple, clean design.

laabf-zine-5THEM: Collectors by Jill Miller (Golden Spike Press booth) ($10) — For her Collectors exhibition at San Francisco’s 2nd Floor Projects back in 2007, artist Jill Miller trained with a private investigator then spent six months spying on art collectors in the Bay Area. While the show made waves back then, the accompanying “catalogue” is a tabloid of her surveillance printed in a trashy newsprint format titled Them — an obviously play on Us Weekly. Miller’s fascination with this crucial — but largely unseen — demographic of the art world is a send up of our culture of surveillance. And while she probably didn’t know about the NSA back then, the recent revelations make the work even more poignant today. While I never saw the original exhibit, the accompanying publication works rather well as a standalone piece.

laabf-zine-4KPC (Gottlund booth) ($20) — I was immediately taken by the beauty of this visually stunning artist book. While it’s not exactly clear what the “subject” of this project is, the result is mesmerizing, textured, and rich. The forest of lines and surfaces in the book confuse your eyes as images repeat and overlap like some type of digital version of rococo. The result is an explosion of shapes, muted colors, paper-made forms, and some things that are hard to identify.

As you can probably guessed, I went over my budget, but in a room full of art-related publications there’s only so much I can resist.

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