Books

In Search of the Unique at Printed Matter’s 2019 NY Art Book Fair

Despite the overwhelming number of independent presses, it was challenging to find the books and zines that couldn’t easily be seen elsewhere, say on Amazon or in gallery bookshops.

Till the Last Gasp, A Graphzine History 1975-2005, installation view at NYABF, MoMA PS1 (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

This past weekend, Printed Matter’s annual NY Art Book Fair (NYABF) at MoMA PS1 hosted 353 exhibitors and upwards of 40,000 visitors. My favorite demarcation of the fall season — in part because of its sprawling format and brimming booths — this year it felt a little harder to find exhibitors, ranging from artist collectives to antiquarian booksellers, offering unique publications. Despite the overwhelming number of independent presses, it was challenging to find the books and zines that couldn’t easily be seen elsewhere, say on Amazon or in gallery bookshops. Repetition from booth to booth (and from year to year) was too prevalent, and ephemera seemed at times to replace the notion of books altogether.

Despite this, NYABF remains an essential place to discover small publishers from around the world and the artists they support. It’s the place to find books that are also art objects in their own right — rather than simply art books — and my go-to source for artists and writers expanding the notion of what actually defines a “book.” Here are five booths that stood out to me for their unique perspectives on the range of shapes contemporary art books can take.

Seaton Street Press, detail of Y(OURS)

Seaton Street Press, located in The Zine Tent and my first find of the day, is a relatively new, artist-run publication project based in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, specializing in the intersection between image, text, and place. Their book Y(OURS), a collaborative project between ten artists, contemplates notions of property and ownership through grainy black & white photography and poetic texts like, “Oh, and by the way, who owns the sunset?” Another publication titled Los Angeles: A Document by Lindsay Buchman, read like a time-lapse flip book, documenting the demolition, displacement, and transition of 561 Mateo Street in downtown LA. These urban explorations feel like necessary reflections at a time when more than half the global population is living within cities.

Inframundo/Hydra, detail of In My Mind There is Never Silence by Diego Moreno

Inframundo/Hydra, based in Mexico City, exhibited 21 photo books by Latin American photographers, each of whom brings a contemporary lens to ancient traditions, marginalized Indigenous rituals, and family narratives. The standout work for me was a book of photographs by Diego Moreno, documenting the “Panzudo” tradition of expelling sins through costuming in the artist’s home state of Chiapas. Part of the Catholic tradition, the imagery goes beyond metaphorical implications, as everyday life continues to unfold around the sinners. In one haunting photograph, a sinner, dressed in a colorful, head-to-toe gown and a face mask, sits passively nearby as a small child reads a book.

Perimeter Editions, detail of Jump Into Bed With Me by Paul Knight

Perimeter Editions, based in Australia, publishes art books of various contemporary photographers whose imagery falls somewhere between the conceptual and the commercial. From the tall and narrow design of Mick Slack’s Walking In Place series (think of paperbacks that slide into your back pocket), to the rich paper stock selected for the fashion-inspired images of Bec Parson’s Lone Dove, the attention to detail in each of their publications emphasizes how “traditional” books come alive through mindful design. The standout for me was Jump Into Bed With Me by Berlin-based artist Paul Knight. Beginning with the words, “what does a boy do on a cold misty night?, the text explores the relationship with his partner Peter via SMS messages and gritty photographs. The book utilizes a double-sided, accordion format to highlight the non-liner timeline of distinct but intertwined lives.

Crevasse, detail of Icon by Sayuri Nishiyama

Crevasse, an independent publisher of photography books and zines based in Ibaraki, Japan, exhibited a curated collection of Japanese artists using playful formats and surrealist imagery. The book Icon, by Sayuri Nishiyama, with its hefty rubber cover, is full of renderings of fish carcasses so beautiful they turn blood, bones, eyeballs, and guts into painterly pop abstractions. Beginning with the words “I always saw the ocean from my room” the book concludes, “their eyes in blue garbage cans cannot be seen by everyone. But, I will photograph them.” 

Simple Project NY, detail of Time For Time/Time After Time by Yoshinori Tomiyama and Seiji Kumagai

Also from Japan, Simple Project NY is a collective of various Japanese artists — many of whom are now based in NYC — that produces artist books in small editions. A highlight was the two-sided Time For Time/Time After Timea collaboration between Yoshinori Tomiyama and Seiji Kumagai that uses 8×10 Polaroid images in the murky colors of early color photography to cast a surreal and almost cinematic mood over the mundane beauty of daily routines.

Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair was held at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens) from Thursday, September 19 to Sunday, September 22.

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