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SAN FRANCISCO — This past weekend, the San Francisco Art Book Fair (SFABF) took over the exhibition spaces at Minnesota Street Project (MSP). The annual event, which began in 2016, highlighted more than 100 international voices dedicated to the intersections between print and the fine arts. The event was co-founded by the MSP, which provides economically sustainable exhibition and studio spaces for artists and arts organizations, in collaboration with Colpa Press and the art gallery and store Park Life.
I anticipated spending less than an hour wandering the event’s aisles, since the MSP isn’t the largest venue. Yet, I was still eagerly uncovering treasures after three-plus hours. The organizers curated a phantasmagoria of printed objects — from clothbound publications to saddle-stitched zines and merch of every description. SFABF is the only event of its kind in the Bay Area. Other events, certainly, celebrate the interactions of word and image, but none other looks at the idea of the art book with such breadth and diversity.
While there were plenty of objects that could’ve been at any art book fair, several of the vendors seemed to uniquely embrace the idea of San Francisco, the capital of all things counter-culture, whose art scene is notable for celebrating the idiosyncratic, the grotesque, and the truly weird. Below are a few of the publishers that exemplified that ethos.
Colpa is basically a Bay Area institution, as well as one of the co-founders of the San Francisco Art Book Fair. Their publications are in permanent collections, from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Despite these impressive credentials, their publications maintain an underground, gritty vibe that feels like a giant middle-finger to the glossy, high finish, techy-centric lifestyle currently creeping into every facet of Bay Area culture. Of particular note were their series on 1990s rave flyers from San Francisco and Los Angeles (part of an expanding series that includes New York and Chicago), and, especially, their giant book See To Day. That latter tome features Risograph reproductions of lithographs of bootleg movie posters of Hollywood films by artists in Bangalore and other parts of India.
Martian Press is the brainchild of artist and printer Stephanie Lane Gage, formerly based out of Milwaukee and currently located in Los Angeles. Speculative fiction and poetry are the primary focus at Martian, exemplified by its lit journal, Asterisms, which contains dozens of new and original writers whose work adroitly plays with sci-fi and horror tropes while exploring contemporary social justice issues. Especially cool, however, was a zine that Gage authored, titled Are You or Someone You Know Experiencing Paranormal Activity in Your Home or Business?. The work graphically interprets her poem about spectral hauntings through the lens of mental health awareness.
Creative Growth Art Center
Creative Growth is a nonprofit gallery space that provides services and opportunities for artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities. Many of the publications featured their artists’ work, which reminded me of pieces that came out of the early years of the celebrated MFA program at UC Davis –– think the loose clay work of Robert Arneson and David Gilhooly, or the cartoonishness of Roy De Forest. For example, the paintings on wood by John Martin, arranged on the wall behind the table, exuded the effervescence and mythmaking qualities of the witty Nut artists. One work in particular featured a self-portrait of the artist attacked by a flying insect.
Based out of Berkeley and Los Angeles, this tiny press had some super fun books. For about a half-hour I was engrossed by a graphic novel titled Paper Mountain by Jee-Shaun Wang. The story follows a girl in a haunted boarding school trying to outrun a ghost who wants to eat her. The visuals are clean, stunning, and funny. Also on hand was an assortment of prints interpreting the theme of dogs — rooted in 2018 being the year of the dog. The prints also acted as a tribute to an exhibition at Double Punch centered on dog illustrations that the printer absolutely loved.
In 2014, Breezy Circle published an insightful and hilarious anthropological book called Gay Men Draw Vaginas, and at the book fair they had what appeared to be an astounding selection of works centered on various gender and body subjects. Yet, every time I passed by, there was a throng of visitors crowding the table and I couldn’t quite elbow my way in. My wife, however, was able to visit, and was rewarded with one of the Vaginal Fortunes they were giving out. Hers read: “To err is human, but to master the calls of all the birds in the Pacific Northwest with your vagina is divine.” She loves birds and lived in Portland, so she thinks it accurately forecast her vagina as best any fortune could manage. So, of course, we’re getting it framed.
The 2018 San Francisco Art Book Fair took place at Minnesota Street Project (1275 Minnesota St, San Francisco) July 20–22.
Poussin and the Dance is a valiant attempt to break into Poussin’s staunchly academic oeuvre and provide a relatable point of entry, highlighting the exciting elements of revelry and movement despite impenetrable and unemotional rendering.
Anarchist illustrator N.O. Bonzo produces decentralized media in a highly bureaucratic cultural landscape. Their illustrations, murals, and literature emerge in unexpected places, from the streets of Portland, Oregon, to the far ends of Reddit and Twitter, addressing relations of labor and identity in the workplace and on the streets. Growth and care are central themes…
This exhibition explores how images of the human body were used to provoke profound physical and emotional responses in viewers from the 15th through 18th centuries.
With scavenged materials, Amanda Maciel Antunes constructs a motherland.
Where are the directors taking the stage to acknowledge workers’ demands today?
The collaborative handmade paper- and printmaking center at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts publishes new works by Liz Collins and Sarah McEneaney.
There is a debate whether the memory of Little Syria should be seized upon to tell truthful and positive stories about Arabs in the US, or whether any conflation between its history and contemporary politics is inappropriate.
The profile includes works by Egon Schiele, Amedeo Modigliani, Peter Paul Rubens, and a prehistoric Venus of Willendorf figurine.
These horrifying dolls definitely won’t murder you in your sleep.