The book fair attracted thousands of people from all parts of Los Angeles. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The book fair attracted thousands of people from all parts of Los Angeles. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

LOS ANGELES — Bookstore chains may slowly be dying out, but small publishing is alive and kicking … hard. At least, if the turnout at Printed Matter’s first LA Art Book Fair was any indication.

“We had no idea how popular the fair would be,” writes organizer AA Bronson after the whirlwind had passed. “Over 15,000 people came through the fair in its three days, and there were smiling faces everywhere. The enormous range of publishing brings joy to book lovers, I don’t know how else to put it.”

Eddie’s outfit and skateboard.

A quick chat with the greeter at the LA Art Book Fair confirms Bronson’s assessment. “I don’t think anyone had any idea it would be this popular,” she says.

I stopped by the MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space on its last day and the people kept on coming. Cyclists and skateboarders jostled for space alongside tote-wearing attendees, well prepared to take home some choice finds at the fair. The air was warm from all the bodies passing by, despite the garage doors at the Geffen being open. The extra heat didn’t deter browsers however and we all still milled around the booths.

Despite living in Los Angeles, I confess to not having my radar tuned into small publishing. This opened my eyes. Over 200 publishers were in attendance all bringing their unique finds to the table. Present of course are the bigwigs in art publishing: the Gagosian presented their Mike Kelley tribute, an assemblage of books relating to the artist including “A UFO Hunter’s Guide” and “Selected Works from the Detroit Institute of Arts”; the LA MOCA booth sweetened their membership deal by offering an eye-catching Ed Ruscha “Make New History” art object; and Artbook D.A.P. offered their endless variety of art and photography books, but those that caught my eye were the publishers that worked at the fringes of the scene.

Like an independent country, The Thing Quarterly booth was decked out in flags. Headquartered out of San Francisco, they showed off their special fusion of print and art objects. Like a magazine but in object form, The Thing Quarterly makes for a good read and good addition to one’s home. A favorite is Dave Egger’s Shower Curtain, which decorates your home and literally adds a voice to your décor by publishing the shower’s monologue onto the curtain “page.”

Bird’s eye view of the book fair.

While wandering the maze, I also found Mommy started by Susan Silas and Chrysanne Stathacos. Instead of casting their nets widely, the two artists have chosen to focus their efforts bringing to light the works of women artists as they progress through the life. Being female, I could relate to the impetus and I’ve always wondered, how do these artists cope with the major life changes as well as unique social pressures that being a women puts upon them.

Siglio Press builds on that feminine point of view with their handsome box set “It’s Almost That.” Encapsulated in a wood-hinged box, the ten saddle-stitched booklets examine the nude film (by Fiona Banner), the taxonomy of psychics’ advertisements (by Susan Hiller), and a number of other curiosities created by women artist writers.

At Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Design, posters were re-cast as call-outs to think about a city’s future, or a beloved urbanist’s way of living.

Zine World gave people a glimpse into the scrappy world of zines including works by Mark Gonzales, Ari Marcopoulos, Raymond Pettibon, and Dash Snow.

Walking through the endless selection, I was struck by the flexibility of the printed medium. We’ve always been conditioned to view books as hardbound covers and justified text, but the fair exposed the many ways ink on paper can come to life. Whether it’s a saddle-stitched booklet, a hardbound cover, an accordion book or a six-pound book made of stiff board pages (such as Dash Snow’s “Movie List” presented by Andrew Roth Gallery)

Noah Lyon’s Ronald McHitler certainly startled me and also gave me my mind something to chew on afterward. Right across from him, Boo-Hooray’s Larry Clark installation seemed positively voyeuristic with rows of shirts, worn skateboards (complete with scuffed decks) and, of course, risqué photographs. Let’s just say I haven’t seen so many genitalia in print for quite some time.

The LA Art Book Fair was an overwhelmingly strong counter-argument against the print medium’s death. If anything, it proves that no matter how digital our lives may become, we’ll all still be grasping for something material to memorialize it. To that end, both Bronson and I are hoping for many happy returns, “If the response from the public was any indication, we will return! Perhaps it takes a New Yorker to create a place where the many layers of Angelino culture can meet and come together.”

MOCA’s membership comes with an Ed Ruscha art object.

Japanese artist Sasaki maps visitor’s heartbeats as art.

Vintage art opening posters.

The Thing Quarterly’s display with Dave Eggers’ Shower Curtain in the backdrop.

Dash Snow’s Movie List show tantalizing glimpses of VHS sleeves on stiff board paper.

Some tote bags with attitude on display.

Sometimes simple works just bring out beauty in color and composition.

LA Urban Forum for Architecture and Design’s posters on the future of cities.

Siglio Press’s woodbox for “It’s Almost That.”

Gagosian’s Mike Kelley tribute.

Boo-Hooray’s Larry Clark installation.

Simple name tags add even more personality to this installation.

Noah Lyon’s Ronald McHitler.

Wisdom from book covers.

The famous Warhol vs. Basquiat poster.

The LA Art Book Fair took place from January 31– February 3 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (152 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles).

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