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LOS ANGELES — Artist books and zines are the vinyl records of the book publishing world. They retain the romance of the physical book, often pushing the boundaries of narrative and form, but given the economics of contemporary art production, the vast majority tend to make little if any money and are often more a labor of love. At Printed Matter’s 2016 Los Angeles Art Book Fair, all the faces of this beloved art form are on full display.
On opening night, an art project by Kim Gordon, who commissioned mostly well-known artists (Richard Prince, Rita Ackermann, Rodney Graham) to design unique record covers for her 2014 live performance with Bill Nace, Live Hassle, was one aisle down from a special commission by Gary Panter, who created a $25 bong sculpture for a vintage Mold-a-rama machine, and adjacent to the David Zwirner booth, which featured the reissue of a rare 1999 artist book by Jason Rhodes, Xerox Book. The fair is a cornucopia of art-world rarities, oddities, and editioned experiments at every turn.
Artist Tauba Auerbach was standing by her Diagonal Press booth, which issues unlimited editions that challenge the traditional categories of design and contemporary art. “I wanted to keep this project as open and flexible as possible … I stick to the principle of making something that’s accessible to a lot of people, and hopefully ambitious. I want to use consumer-level or office-level production methods and push them into new directions if I can possibly think of that,” she told Hyperallergic.
“It’s important for me personally because I have [my gallery-based career] going on that is both satisfying and troubling, because it involves engaging with a certain part of the economy that I have some moral debates and misgivings about,” she said. “So I set up the press as a way to build something from the ground up with more intentionality than I went into my art career with, because I was super young when it began. “That’s why I made these rules that everything would be open-edition and nothing would be signed or numbered. You don’t really stand to gain anything monetarily from purchasing these things; if you do it, it is out of pure general interest in the thing itself.”
Auerbach’s project creates stylish pins, artist books, and even beautifully designed rolling papers. Her latest project is the republication of various out-of-print books by Claude Bragdon, a thinker on four-dimensional space who has been influential on her own practice.
At this year’s fair, there are special sections devoted to publishers from Spain, an exhibition of LA Hardcore courtesy of FER YOUz, and the impressive exhibition of work by Mason Williams, an LA-based artist who was one of the pioneers of conceptual printmaking in the United States. The life-size print of a Greyhound bus almost covers an entire wall of the zine section, and it’s complemented by other ephemera and photographs that illustrate the ambition of his projects, including “Sunflower” (1967), the world’s largest drawing made using smoke against the sky.
At China-based studio New Terrorities, Samantha Culp was showing off her new Cronenberg Valentines gift box set, which will be unveiled on Saturday, February 13. Her booth also features a fantastic box set of mini-zines by Bananafish (I felt compelled to buy one of the two copies on hand) and the Concrete Flux zine with lenticular covers, not to mention other zines that were outfitted with custom-designed mini tote bags.
Artist Nicole Killian was standing at the Modern Women booth, which featured queer feminist graphic design products, including a book, Untitled, that documented years of screenshot correspondence between Killian and artist Patrick Gantert. Part journal and part morgue file, the result is a vibrant publication seemingly created with one of the many print-on-demand services that have made publishing more and more accessible.
In the antiquarian section, Louisa Riley-Smith of London’s 20th Century Art Archives was showing her rare collection of Minimalist and Conceptual artist books from the last half century, with a particular focus on the 1960–80 period. “I try to bring the European conceptual artist to LA,” she told Hyperallergic. She said she loves the very young demographic that attends the event, and she mentioned that over the years she has seen the audience become more and more sophisticated when it comes to ephemera and artist books.
“This is a world-class fair; the quality and the range of material is great. I very much like being alongside the countercultural and psychedelia and these other things, because I don’t see artists’ books as hanging out in a space by themselves, so I love the cross-cultural connections of LA in particular.”
Riley-Smith’s booth features a strong selection of female artists of the 1970s, a special handmade book cover by Tracey Emin, and John Baldessari’s Fable (1977), the rarest item she brought.
I spotted LA-based art dealer Charlie James, and he updated me on his finds, including Richard Prince’s new LP for $75. Unique collages by Allen Ruppersberg were also being offered close by for $175.
LA-based curator and film programmer Erin Christovale was at the Black Lives Matter booth, which was part of the fair’s Friendly Fire section, where the theme was “the political meets the personal.” The inclusion of Black Lives Matter was a welcome sight after a controversy involving the group and the fair last year. “It came out of a conversation we had with Printed Matter,” Christovale told Hyperallergic. Last year, Black Lives Matter took issue with the fair commissioning an artwork with the letters BLM but not donating any of the proceeds to the organization. This year they were invited to take part, and they brought prints, posters, and zines by artists and activists who have created work about black narratives and identities, or that focus on the recent police violence against black people. One of the items is Too Fly Not to Fly, an alphabet book by Breanna McLean, which features photographs of the teacher’s former students from Chicago’s South Side and a guide for those who want to teach about the African American student experience in their own classrooms.
“The conversation here is still a very white space,” Christovale said of the fair. “I do see more people of color popping up and vending, so I don’t know if this conversation always communicates to the target audience, but we’re glad we’re here because it’s always great to show artists who are supporting this type of work.”
In 2016, Black Lives Matter is one of many important groups and projects that freely crisscross the boundaries of art, activism, and life. Richard Bell, whose “Aboriginal Embassy” project (2013–present) was part of last year’s Venice Biennale and New York’s Performa performance art festival, invited a number of artists to be part of his itinerant project. Among the works were new posters by Emory Douglas, who revisited his classic Black Panther–era images of revolution, empowerment, and solidarity.
For me, the most impactful piece at the fair was one of the smallest. In Bell’s booth, a print of his titled “Immigration Policy” simply imposed the words “YOU CAN GO NOW” on a map of modern-day Australian. Bell’s project has always been a poignant reminder of the violence of place, which shifts meaning for each individual based on his or her own history and ideology. In a time when immigration is being hotly debated in the United States by populations that have almost always benefited from lax immigration policies, this work reminds us that the privilege of citizenship is unevenly distributed. Even the LA Art Book Fair, like most of Los Angeles, is situated on the land of the Tongva, a people who now number less than 2,000 and were forced to assimilate first by the Spanish and then by the United States. “Immigration Policy” encapsulates for me what the book fair does best: inviting as many voices as possible to join the conversation, so we can find a new perspective that has the potential to change our own worldview.
The 2016 LA Art Book Fair continues at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (152 North Central Avenue, Japantown, Los Angeles) through February 15. Hyperallergic is the media sponsor.