Blood on Paper, by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

‘Blood on Paper’ by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

I made the bold decision to venture into the NY Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter at MoMA PS1. There were throngs of people examining books, chatting about books, buying books, and having books thrust upon them. I wandered about for a while, letting the spirit take me where it willed. I found the fair to generally skew to the young hipster vibe: lots of asymmetrical hairdos, errant bits of face metal, and plenty of naked ankles showing. It also seem suffused with a vibe of curiosity, an attitude that’s more, “Well, this looks interesting and non-canonical; I’ll give it some time,” rather than the stuffy, almost mercenary air of typical large-scale art fairs. I found a few objects that were intriguing and even captivating.

Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back by Lisa Anne Auerbach

‘Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back’ by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back by Lisa Anne Auerbach

‘Charted Patterns for Sweaters That Talk Back’ by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Where: Printed Matter, New York (Main Hall, Main Building)

I really appreciated this book, because the patterns are funny, snarky and unapologetically political in sensibility. From what I read elsewhere, Auerbach’s artistic practice consists of zine making, photography, and knitting — she’s evidently combined them in this project. It’s difficult to toe the line of being funny without being disposable, political without being tedious, and educational without being boring, but Auerbach does all of the above.

She gives the step-by-step instructions on how to knit sweaters and skirts featuring a variety of pointed slogans, which are generally positive and indicate that the author is woke AF. There are instructions for making the “If nothing changes, it changes nothing” skirt, which is as wise as a Zen koan (but with humbler stakes). My favorite is absolutely the set of instructions for making the “When there is nothing left to burn, you’ve got to set yourself on fire” sweater. It seems like an apt call to arms for our political moment right now.

Skinhead – An Archive by Toby Mott

'Skinhead – An Archive', by Toby Mott

‘Skinhead – An Archive’ by Toby Mott

Skinhead – An Archive, by Toby Mott

‘Skinhead – An Archive’ by Toby Mott

Where: Ditto Press, London (Small Press Dome)

I’m surprised at myself for being drawn to this work, but it is documentary and feeling in a way that is almost never associated with skinheads, who in the US are generally identified with white supremacist groups and racist causes. However, the archivist responsible for gathering the collection of skinhead memorabilia is displayed in the book — I was told by the folks manning the table that it’s the largest in the world — is Toby Mott, a self-described punk who came of age in the 1970s. The images in the book exhibit a conflicted story about the skinheads of the ’70s and ’80s in England: while they had a reputation for being nativist, right wing, and arbitrarily violent, they were also vain as can be. In photographs, you can see their concern with the cuff of their jeans, the shine on their boots, their grooming and social presentation. Looking at the archive, I was reminded that at one point or another we were all children knocking around in the dark, trying to discover ourselves and how we would fit in with the world.

Blood on Paper by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

An insert from 'Blood on Paper', by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

An insert in ‘Blood on Paper’ by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

Another insert in Blood on Paper, by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

Another insert in ‘Blood on Paper’ by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson

Where: Marcus Campbell Art Books, K.01

This book is essentially a very elaborate exhibition catalogue for a show that took place in 2008 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The exhibition, Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book, charted the history of artists’ books from the early 20th century to around the time of the show.

It included mostly blue-chip, well-established artists — their roll call reads like a greatest hits of the (mostly male) 20th century: Francis Bacon, Balthus, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Cai Guo-Qiang, Anthony Caro, Jean Dubuffet, Alberto Giacometti, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer, and so on.

The book has an inviting presentation, and with the provocative title pulling me in, I found leafing through it compelling. I could get lost in this book.

There Have Been and Will Be Many San Franciscos by Tauba Auerbach

There Have Been and Will Be Many San Franciscos, by Tauba Auerbach

There Have Been and Will Be Many San Franciscos, by Tauba Auerbach

Where: Diagonal Press, New York, F.05

It’s a simple approach: one image stacked on several copies and cut so that the book represents a kind of architectural form. The version I saw had an image of what seemed to be table legs. The book was cut on the diagonal so that it formed a kind of tapered rectangle, like the base of a ziggurat. I had the temerity to ask the table attendant, “and this constitutes a book?,” with some incredulity in my voice. She was affirmative and then found someone else to talk to. I don’t know who the audience for this book is, but I imagine that it’s people with too much money and a yen for impressing their friends with their avant-garde tastes.

The Black Banal by Tony Cokes

Inside 'The Black Banal', by Tory Cokes

Inside ‘The Black Banal’ by Tony Cokes

Where: Image Text Ithaca Press, Ithaca, S.03

From the first page I saw, I was interested in the content of this book, which seems to consist of a bunch of loose-leaf, US-standard-size pages in varying colors with the author’s meditations on what it means to be black.

Strictly speaking, it’s not a book but actually an unbound, silkscreen-print portfolio. The work gets at the cognitive dissonance of race and color (as in hue) that can’t help but demonstrate its irrationality in language, like the once-upon-a-time habit of calling black people “colored,” as if others were devoid of tones. The subject is that unique American concoction of opposites: both utterly inane and yet endlessly captivating.

The Book of Night by Mary Heilmann

The Book of Night, by Mary Heilmann

The Book of Night, by Mary Heilmann

Where: 303 Inprint, New York, M.01

303 Gallery’s publishing arm has published a screen-printed artist’s book that riffs on Mary Heilmann’s original “The Book of Night” (1970), an artwork that measured 34 x 38.5 inches and consisted of acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas “pages.” The book I encountered reinterprets the original in a new, smaller format (9.5 x 10 inches) in an edition of 250, only 25 of which have the stars spray-painted silver. This more limited collection is also numbered and signed by the artist.

With it comes a smaller booklet that has images of the artist at the Whitney Museum Art Resource Center, NY, in 1970, turning the pages of the original work. Those images are wonderful with their grainy, crepuscular feel. Most of the pages of the new book are toned dark gray, but here and there they are dotted with bright, glowing shapes described to me as stars. I think they resemble flowers, their bulbs like light succulents.

Simmon: A Private Landscape by Eikoh Hosoe

Simmon: A Private Landscape by Eikoh Hosoe

‘Simmon: A Private Landscape’ by Eikoh Hosoe

Where: Akio Nagasawa Publishing, Tokyo, Focus: Photography V.02

Since my time studying photography as an undergraduate, Hosoe has been one of my favorite photographers. He can be dramatically powerful with some rather simple compositions and carefully thought-out lighting. This collection is like a game of hide and seek. The photographs follow a strange and suggestive transvestite character, Simmon, the artist Simon Yotsuya, through a variety of urban, natural, and social settings in Japan. The character is impish and funny, and yet Hosoe’s style lends a sense of melancholy and seriousness to Simmon’s mischievous antics. This is a book I wish I owned.

The 2016 NY Art Book Fair took place at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens) from September 16 through 18.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...