LOS ANGELES — They said it would never work. They said Angelenos aren’t interested in art books. Then, two years ago, they were proven wrong, as 15,000 enthusiastic visitors descended on MOCA Geffen for the debut of the Los Angeles Art Book Fair. This weekend marked the third installment of the event, organized by New York’s Printed Matter, with over 250 exhibitors from around the world showing a range of art-related material from photocopied zines to limited edition portfolios.
The success of the event shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given Los Angeles’s long history of artist-produced publications dating back to Wallace Berman’s Semina magazine, Ed Ruscha’s photo books, and Barbara T. Smith’s Xeroxed artist books. This year’s fair included over 100 publishers from California, the most from any region, representing the breadth of the Golden State’s biblio-artistic output.
Small-scale presses were in abundance in the zine room where we found Rock Bottom from Los Angeles, a one-woman operation run by Suzanna Zak. Their mostly photocopied “place-based” publications relate to territories from New Orleans to the Yukon.
At the booth next door was Land and Sea from Oakland, which produces artist monographs and LPs with minimal, typographic letterpressed covers. Their Reel book by SFMOMA projectionist Paul Clipson features drawings from films at the exact moment when the reel is to be changed.
Named for the early 20th century Southern California socialist commune, the Llano Del Rio Collective makes beautifully designed guides on LA, such as one to the Utopias of So. Cal. fittingly. (Their Guide to the Assholes of LA had sold out.)
KCHUNG, the underground radio station located in Chinatown, had a booth where they were selling cassettes of recordings by artists including Jim Shaw and Keith Rocka Knittel. They were also broadcasting on 107.3 the live music being performed outside, which included No Age and Prince Rama on opening night.
The Women’s Center for Creative Work was across the cavernous space, offering a selection of publications by their members. They had also set up a small section for “Rad Ladies in Residence” to present and lead discussions throughout the weekend.
The WCCW was sandwiched in between the legendary Guerrilla Girls, and the Center for Sex and Culture from San Francisco, a library and archive for sex- and gender-related material from posters to magazines to artwork.
An archive of a different sort, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, was located in the main space. Recently established as a repository of material related to LA artists, they had scheduled various artists to hold office hours at the booth, where they would present ephemera and documentation from their own practice or LACA’s collection.
Across the aisle was LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), one of the longest running publishers on site, who have been producing books since the 1970s. They had books and pamphlets for sale going back as far as the mid-80s.
For other rare finds, there was Art Catalogues, the stellar independent art bookstore located in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Dagny Corcoran, the owner, said she had sold mostly modestly-priced or expensive books, but not much in the middle range.
San Francisco’s Exploratorium was upstairs, and although they are primarily considered a science museum, recent exhibitions and publications have been cross-discipline collaborations with artists.
There were a number of booths that featured artist editions including prints, posters and handmade books. Yes and No Books run by Edgar Bryan was showing hilarious fold-out pizzas and burlap-bound books of hand-drawn internet cats.
Fowler had her own booth, where she was offering the poetic prints that she printed in collaboration with the Colby Poster Printing Company. Colby had been producing their ubiquitous, vibrant LA roadside posters for over sixty years until they closed up shop in 2013.
LA-based Siglio Press had for sale their new book on under-acknowledged artist Dorothy Iannone, whose erotically-charged, personal works make her a complicated feminist icon. Fortuitously, Printed Matter had put together an exhibition on Iannone as well, which features a selection of her books and exhibition posters, including An Icelandic Saga, her landmark artist book chronicling her relationship with artist Dieter Rot.
By honoring Iannone, the organizers acknowledged the power of the book to convey radical social, political, and personal messages through modest means. Perhaps this is why the fair has been so successful out West, where an absence of communal public life imbues the sharing of printed matter between creator and consumer with a special significance.
The 2015 LA Art Book Fair took place at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (152 North Central Avenue, Japantown, Los Angeles) January 29–February 1. Hyperallergic was the media sponsor.