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AA Bronson, the internationally recognized artist and former president of New York’s Printed Matter artist-book store, is currently in Los Angeles to launch the first ever LA Art Book Fair at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space in downtown LA.
Bronson, who is also the director of the NY Art Book Fair, says he’s been thinking about an LA companion to the popular New York event for about three years now. “At the NY Art Book Fair we noticed an enormous underground publishing activity going on in Los Angeles. While the popular truism was that Angelinos don’t read books, the truth is that there are pockets of young people publishing various sorts of alternative publications all over the city and beyond,” he says. “Only in Brooklyn and Berlin did we see such a profusion of publishing innovation.”
The question he explained is what would an LA art book fair look like and how would it be different? “When I began conceiving what the LA Art Book Fair might be, I knew that it was fundamentally something very different from the NY Art Book Fair. But I did not know what that difference might be,” Bronson says. “I soon realized that the way to go was to let the Fair take its own shape, go with the interests that came my way and see what it might become.”
Bronson made the ambitious decision to devote one of the two buildings that are part of the Geffen Contemporary complex to zines. “It quickly became apparent that zine publishing and the history of zine publishing is fundamental to any idea of what LA is about, we put aside an entire building and called it Zine World,” he says.
Listening to Bronson explain the diversity of the city’s zine offerings makes you wish you could fly to LA yourself to see the riches:
At one end of the spectrum we have the exhibition Larry Clark Stuff, organized by Boo-Hooray, as well as Zine Masters of the Universe, a collection of zines by Ari Marcopoulos, Dash Snow, Mark Gonzales and Raymond Pettibon, drawn from the collection of Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons. GSD: Skate Fate Till Today is a history of the early zine Skate Fate, which many Angelinos see as marking the beginnings of local zine culture. And Bedwetter and Beyong: The Complete Bookworks of Christopher Russell shows the works of one contemporary artist, his roots in zine publishing and how that has flowered in the art world context today. Both those exhibitions are curated by Darin Klein, who also programmed an astonishing lineup of talks, performances and film in our Zine World Theater. This group of exhibitions and activities, which I see as a history of LA publishing, are brought into focus by the very active presence of more than 80 zinesters who display their wares in person, from California and beyond.
A tribute to artist Mike Kelly, presented by Gagosian, and a tribute to the San Francisco rare book dealer, gentleman, and scholar Steven Leiber, complete that history. The first anniversary of both of their deaths falls close to the dates of the Fair.
But zines aren’t the only notable aspect of LA’s art publishing scene, according to Bronson:
The other aspect of Los Angeles that quickly came to the fore was a more experiential approach to making art and making publications. Los Angelenos exhibitors like IKO IKO, Paper Chase, Otherwild and Public Fiction have a much more eclectic approach to the place that publications hold within the larger culture. Fritz Haeg’s Sundown Schoolhouse epitomizes that approach, mixing a kind of hang-out den with yoga lessons, tea, and “book club meetings.” KChung is a pirate radio station run by artists and brings a novel form of on-site “publishing” to the Fair.
The Fair director says that while he initially worried that the inaugural LA Art Book Fair might be small, the opposite proved to be true as they’ve collected 220 exhibitors from 21 countries for the debut, including 80 zinesters, 20 magazines, 15 internationally known antiquarians, and a heap of small publishers and self-publishing artists.
He says that some people may think they’re taking a chance with the emphasis on zines, which many think is too specialized of a subculture, but Bronson has a hunch that the “complex octopus” of zine culture with its many generations, ethnic and racial groups, and other special interest groups will warrant the attention. “My prediction is that Zine World will be by far the most popular (and populist) part of the show,” he says.
Yet don’t think zines will be the only focus of this large celebration of arts publishing. “The biggest surprise to me has been the depth and breadth of the rare book dealers in considering Los Angeles. Several dealers, like Alden Projects (New York), Boo-Hooray (New York), Laurence McGilvery (Santa Barbara), Monograph Bookwerks (Portland, OR), and LEADAPRON (Los Angeles) have very particular takes on the history of Los Angeles,” he says. “Everyone has dug deep into their archives to find an astonishing array of publications, posters, and ephemera, with a particular emphasis, it seems to me, on the 60s and 70s — in the case of Alden Projects, his works span the years of 1959 to 1973, ‘the city’s golden era of smog.’”
The LA Art Book Fair event is free and open to the public. Hours and Location of the LA Art Book Fair:
Thursday, January 31, 6–9pm (Preview)
Friday, February 1, 11am–5pm
Saturday, February 2, 11am–6pm
Sunday, February 3, 11am–6pm