Late last year, Printed Matter canceled the sixth edition of its LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) following the sudden death of its principal organizer, Shannon Michael Cane. Though it has vowed to resume its LA fair in 2019, organizing this year’s event — which typically takes place in February — without Cane and without access to its usual venue, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary building, simply became logistically impossible for Printed Matter.
Still, the West Coast outpost of Printed Matter’s marquee event, the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF), has quickly grown into a staple of the art ecosystem in Southern California. After launching in 2013 with an already-impressive lineup of 220 exhibitors, the LAABF steadily grew and included more than 300 exhibitors for its 2017 edition. As Printed Matter plots its return to LA in 2019, Hyperallergic spoke to the nonprofit’s executive director, Max Schumann, about how it will maintain a presence in the city in the meantime and what distinguishes its East Coast and West Coast fairs from each other, and from conventional art fairs.
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Benjamin Sutton: The cancelation of this year’s LAABF was due in no small part to the sudden death of Shannon Michael Cane; how will his vision for the fair continue to shape future editions?
Max Schumann: The tragic loss of Shannon Michael Cane has been devastating, for us here at Printed Matter where he was a central and senior member of our staff, but also across his broad community of friends, colleagues, followers, and fans. We decided to cancel the LAABF this year because of the profound impact of Shannon’s passing, and also because the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, where we’ve held the fair for the last 5 years, became unavailable due to a change in their 2018 programming schedule. The dual prospects of having to secure a different venue and build new Fair leadership was just not feasible given the shrinking time window and Printed Matter’s many other programming projects already in the works.
We are eager to maintain a presence in LA in the off-year, and are happy to hear that some other art publishing fairs and events are being planned in the absence of the LAABF. We will be exhibiting at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) fair this week, where we’ll be presenting a broad array of contemporary and historical artists’ books as well as our own publishing projects, and will feature a number of recent fundraising editions.
We are also working in collaboration with 8 Ball Community (a wonderful zine collective based in NYC) and Ooga Booga (an independent bookstore that does publishing and has a rich schedule of public programs and is based in LA), to produce an art zine/indie art press fair in LA this spring. This fair will be produced and presented in 8 Ball Community style, super lo-fi and DIY, and will feature almost only West Coast publishers and projects. The fair will be in mid-May and will be dedicated to Shannon Micael Cane. We will be making a public announcement very soon.
BS: Do you plan to return to the Geffen Contemporary in 2019?
MS: We are recruiting for a new Fairs & Editions Director and Coordinator, and are exploring a number of venues, including the Geffen, as potential sites for the future LAABF. We are deeply committed to bringing the fair — in its full scope — back to Los Angeles in 2019.
We’ve been happy to hear that there are other art publishing fairs and events being planned in the absence of the LAABF. That said, what makes the NY and LA Art Book Fairs such a tremendous and unique experience is their scope, their scale, and their volume. These fairs constitute the full range of art and artists’ book publishing from independent artist book presses to commercial art book distributors; from institutional presses to artist/publisher zine projects; from artist/activist publishing collectives to blue chip gallery imprints; from deluxe photo-book presses to rare artist book and ephemera dealers, etc. The fairs also demonstrate how artists’ book and publishing practices are in constant conversation with other published forms, as well as other mediums, projects, and processes. And the packed schedule of public programs include everything content-wise from academic to participatory to production-based to celebratory, and presents a consideration of art and artists’ publishing in its broadest possible sense.
BS: Has the fair been received differently in LA compared to in New York, and are there any tangible differences between the two cities’ communities of art book makers?
MS: The LAABF actually grew at a much more rapid rate than the NYABF. While there are somewhat less exhibitors, the audience grew to over 30,000 in just its second year, while it took approximately six years to achieve that scale in New York. And as rich as the cultural scene is in the LA, the LAABF probably occupies a more prominent spot in the region’s calendar than in New York. While a wonderful feature of both fairs is their inclusivity and populism (they are much less art world-centric than your typical contemporary art fair), the LAABF is even more so than NYABF, and draws a more ethnically and racially diverse audience. The LAABF also has a tremendous presence of California-based exhibitors, which, at 110 in 2017, was more than a third of all the participants.
BS: How do you see the fairs developing and changing in the coming years?
MS: Printed Matter’s mission is to foster the distribution, understanding, and appreciation of artists’ books and related publications. As our highest profile public programs, the fairs play an essential role in introducing new and more broad audiences to the world of artists books’ and creative publishing. I would like to build on the the already existing educational aspects of the fair, reach more diverse audiences, especially outside of the contemporary art orbit, and build greater inclusivity and diversity into the fairs themselves.
I also hope to cultivate more social/political engagement and criticality in the fairs. While the political maelstrom we are in is indeed terrifying, most of the conflicts and injustices playing out are deeply rooted in already existing political, economic, and social systems. As vehicles of communication, artists’ publications have a great potential to critically dig below the surface, examine our own relationship to power structures, discover where there are fissures, create new voices of dissent, and work toward imagining and building new futures.
Printed Matter is participating in this week’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair at the Barker Hangar (3021 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, California), January 25–28. The nonprofit’s brick-and-mortar space is located at 231 Eleventh Avenue (Chelsea, Manhattan).