LOS ANGELES — Printed Matter’s fifth annual LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) descended on the MOCA Geffen last weekend, bringing a staggering 300 publishers, galleries, artists, and booksellers to a consistently packed house of bibliophiles (15,000 people attended on Saturday alone). Among the photocopied zines, limited-edition monographs, and antiquarian offerings, some of the highlights weren’t books at all, but objects that expanded upon the idea of what books can provide: an affordable means to experience and collect art, democratizing it in the same way that the printing press democratized information almost 600 years ago.
Opening night festivities were capped off by a riotous performance by artist, musician, filmmaker, and actress Kembra Pfahler. Clad in little more than red body paint, with blacked-out teeth and a tangled, oversized wig, Pfahler ripped through a rough, fierce, and often funny set of punk tunes, backed by musicians Gyda Gash and Neon Music and two lookalike backup dancer/singers. She held back nothing back, hurling into the audience with gleeful abandon a tambourine, “future feminist” shirts, her underwear, and finally a crucifix that had been inserted into her vagina by a band member. If you missed her set, her London gallery, Emalin, had some of her photo books for sale and had decorated its booth wall with her butt prints.
Outside the fair building, Slow Culture gallery set up an actual Fotomat shack, sponsored by Kodak and Vans, which not only sold 35mm film but offered 24-hour developing as well. They assembled a rotating cast of photographers to man the booth, including Cheryl Dunn, Jim Goldberg, and Ed Templeton, who each had a $100 print for sale in editions of 20 during their shifts. On opening night, there was a steady stream of visitors dropping off rolls of film.
Inside the fair, one of the most impressive installations was a room showcasing Teen Angels, a magazine dedicated to Chicano/Cholo/lowrider culture that ran from 1981 to 2000. At the time, the artist behind the publication was unknown, but many assumed him to be Latino — until a fan, David de Baca, found and befriended him: a white San Bernardino man named David Holland. He died in 2015, but de Baca manages Holland’s archive and has put together a book of the magazine’s hand-drawn cover art. The LAABF installation featured a wide selection of covers as well as a re-creation of Holland’s studio. The display wasn’t just about selling copies, but about highlighting the power of publications to connect individuals and communities by reproducing and spreading images of a shared culture.
The aptly named poster press The Posters launched a collaborative edition at the fair, featuring an image by John Baldessari with all the color stripped out. Visitors could purchase the black-and white-poster as it was or make their own edition at a station filled with art supplies in the MOCA bookstore. Several well-known artists had completed their own versions, including Lucien Smith, Mickalene Thomas, and Henry Taylor. Each version is being photographed for a planned publication.
The Thing Quarterly, a Bay Area–based publisher of art objects, was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a booth showcasing a decade of editions. The team works with artists and manufacturers to create objects that are accessible and affordable but still distinctive, often locally produced and handcrafted. The latest edition is a trap-and-release spider set featuring hand-blown glass by LA artist Amanda Ross-Ho.
Another vendor offering handmade, thoughtfully designed objects was Bob Dornberger, the “objects workshop leader” at wHY Architecture. Dornberger’s micro-booth was filled with his idiosyncratic but impressively constructed items, like a brick brush with bristles or a diamond-cut stone that appears to have a bite taken out of it.
Artist Edgar Bryan was back selling his object-like books, complementing his pizza book from 2015 with a silkscreened beer book that features actual pop-up six-pack holders. He said he promptly sold out after Hyperallergic posted a video of the piece on social media on opening night.
Gagosian Gallery, the international powerhouse usually associated with multimillion-dollar blue-chip artists like Damien Hirst, tried to fit in with its surroundings by focusing on intangible works of art. As at Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair last fall, the gallery had commissioned flash tattoo designs from 12 contemporary artists, including Sterling Ruby, Kenneth Anger, and Henry Taylor. Unlike traditional flash designs, which come in unlimited editions, these came each in editions of six, “since museums need to be able to authenticate their acquisitions,” said Gagosian archivist and librarian Ben Lee Ritchie Handler as he showed off his fresh Analia Saban ink. By Saturday, all the appointments had been booked except for a few slots for Haas Brothers’ designs.
If you found the volume of publications, objects, and other offerings at the LAABF a bit daunting, the students at Dutch Design School Werkplaats Typografie understood — and had put together a project dealing directly with this dilemma. As part of a six-week residency at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, 18 students had set up a publishing house at the fair, where each hour they would print, bind, and release a new 20-page publication, complete with a champagne-drenched launch party. Inspired by the pressure of trying to keep up with the latest and hippest publications, “we wanted to push this feeling by going to the extreme,” said student Melina Wilson. “No one can catch us. We’re the newest, regardless of what the quality is.”
Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair 2017 took place at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (152 N Central Avenue, Los Angeles) on February 24–26.