Yesterday, Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) announced its decision to cancel its 2020 edition, scheduled to open on April 3, over coronavirus concerns. While the news came as no surprise given the revolving door of such announcements in the cultural sector over the last few weeks, the cancellation could be catastrophic for the fair’s more than 350 exhibitors, many of whom are independent publishers who lean heavily on the annual festival for both sales and visibility.
Jordan Spencer, a curatorial assistant in Columbus, Ohio, wanted to help mitigate some of those losses. He began a now quickly growing collaborative Google spreadsheet for exhibitors to list what they would have presented this year, along with detailed descriptions, prices, and links to purchase.
“Pretty quickly after hearing the fair had been canceled I had seen a tweet from [artist] Paul Soulellis wishing there was some way that exhibitors could share their new work, which definitely seemed like a great idea to me,” Spencer told Hyperallergic. “He mentioned a Google doc, so I ran with it.”
In the last 24 hours, Spencer has reached out to nearly all of the artists and publishers planning to exhibit at the fair. About 30 exhibitors have filled out information about their work on the spreadsheet so far.
Among them are Naranja Publicaciones in Chile, which planned to bring a 1969 facsimile edition of Guillermo Deisler’s artist’s book GRRR, available for $30 on their website; the Chicago-based artist Christopher Branson, who is selling his limited edition To Think of Books, a “collection of 100 ideas in a book on book on books,” for $30 via email; and New York City’s feminist Siglio press, which highlights its $28 Madeline Gins Reader.
“I found emails for most, filled out contact webforms for some, and sent Instagram DMs for others,” said Spencer. “I sent out emails in batches so Google wouldn’t mark me as spam, and I had to use two different Instagram accounts, both of which were eventually prevented from sending further DMs.”
Spencer says he’s never been able to attend any of the Printed Matter book fairs himself, because of time and financial limitation, but he has always admired the event from afar.
“I have a couple small publishing operations and I follow a lot of DIY publishers on social media, so I know that a lot of time and money goes into attending a fair and it’s all on the hope that they sell enough to at least break even.”
His initiative is a hope-inducing example of how the art community can band together to support each other during difficult times, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to have an unpredictable ripple effect on the already vulnerable industry.
“I hope that the spreadsheet can in some way help by highlighting what people were planning on launching and offering a way for people to connect directly and buy them. I hope that by circulating the list it can give these artists/publishers a fraction of the promotion that they’re missing out on,” added Spencer.
Update 3/18/2020 4:23pm EDT: Spencer’s project complements Printed Matter’s robust response to support exhibitors after the fair’s cancellation. The LAABF website’s more than 350 exhibitor pages will be regularly updated to include direct links to purchase artists’ books as well as curated reading lists, music lineups, and content related to the Classroom and the Plaza Stage lineup, two of the fair’s programs. Printed Matter may also live stream some programming off-site that we were meant to be presented at the fair.
“Our small team puts all of ourselves into the production of the Fairs, and into this community, for whom we care deeply, and we would love to give them the best opportunity to share their work,” said Sonel Breslav, director of fairs and editions at Printed Matter.