LOS ANGELES — On Thursday evening, Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair opened to crowds in downtown Los Angeles. I saw that poet Ariana Reines was reading somewhere at 7pm, and I wanted to watch her perform her equally brutal and comedic work. When I asked the front desk where the reading was taking place, the fair attendant wasn’t sure what I was talking about; the sprawling fair was already teeming with book enthusiasts, and there was a lot going on. 

Hordes of visitors swarmed the booths filled with zines, photographs, prints, books, clothing, and ephemera offered by more than 300 international exhibitors showcasing their wares across two cavernous buildings of the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). On the terrace, people danced joyously to the music of Black ensemble Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra & Friends. Across the fair sections, including Exhibitor Projects, Rare/Op, Photography, Friendly Fire (which highlights social justice organizations and politically minded artist publishers), and Zines/Small Press, visitors chatted and flirted. First-time and international exhibitors seemed especially excited to be at the fair, back in LA for the first time since its pandemic-induced hiatus in 2019. Altogether, the booths suggest a publishing landscape as quirky and diffuse as Los Angeles itself.  

The “reading room” of Total Landscaping, a collaboration between X-tra and Active Cultures (photo Alina Cohen/Hyperallergic)

Total Landscaping, a collaboration between X-tra, founded in 1997 and the longest-running art publication in Los Angeles, and Active Cultures, a nonprofit that explores the convergence of contemporary art and food, takes an innovative approach to “printed matter.” A garden of quotations, a reading room, an invitation to record a voicemail advocating for the protection of the city’s Verdugo Mountains, and printouts of the evolving People’s Environmental Impact Report are all part of the presentation. The collaborative exhibition emerged from discussions at a reading group that meets at orange groves and strip malls around Los Angeles. 

Co-organizer Anna Cho-Son, Active Cultures editor and curator, told me she was inspired by her research into how “gardens have been used in colonialism as a power move, not only in land grabbing but to assert a cultural, ideological dominance.” 

“The closest thing we can get to independence relies on community in some way,” she said.

In Section D, off the fair’s main drag, Wylie Kasai brought youthful enthusiasm to the stand of New Hampshire’s Poster, Performed project. He and his team coordinated a fair uniform involving orange Los Angeles Apparel socks and white Allbirds sandals. Visitors were invited to submit photos using the QR codes on the wall. The images then entered the group’s database, which prints out unique posters featuring obscured, collated images. (Many visitors, Kasai noted, wanted to submit cat pictures.)

At the stand of the Mexican publisher Gato Negro Ediciones in the Friendly Fire section, Sammy Loren, organizer of LA’s Casual Encountersz alt-lit reading series, was discussing a reprint of his story “La Mora” with Mexico City-based publisher León Muñoz Santini (it was originally serialized across Mexico and in the tabloid La Prensa). It features, as Loren described, a “gringo” in Echo Park’s Stories bookstore who gets seduced by a Mexican con artist. Poet Mariana Rodríguez translated it into Spanish. When asked about Gato Negro’s highlights, he opened Rodríguez’s Chicas Blancas Muy Blancas (Very White White Girls), published in English and Spanish in 2022. “Very white — or not so dark — white girls explain extremely interesting things to me,” it reads. “They explain to me how to be a feminist, they tell me what I should read, how to exercise my human rights, my labor rights, my rights as a — not — white woman.” At the next booth over, the local Cassandra Press showed On Self-Defense (2022/2023), a primer on Black, Indigenous, and Chinese thought on both self-protection and White defensiveness.

Across the room, celestial concerns prevailed. In the zine section, Adam Villacin sold the brightly colored Modern Hagiographies (2022), featuring his drawings of various cultural figures grouped by their astrological sign. He told me he didn’t really believe in astrological likenesses but opined that Geminis are awful. I told him I was a Gemini, and he gave me a free zine. In the main section, Casey Whalen, in town from New York with Anthology Editions, noted that the fair’s opening night seemed more crowded than usual. Visitors were especially interested in Ken Grimes’s forthcoming book Evidence for Contact: Ken Grimes, 1993–2021 (2023), which contains the artist’s conspiracy theories on extraterrestrial life. 

Rio Kodaira of the Japanese bookstore Komiyama Tokyo (photo Alina Cohen/Hyperallergic)

In the photography section, a thick crowd congregated in a corner beneath black tote bags that read “PERV.” Rio Kodaira of the Japanese bookstore Komiyama Tokyo told me that out of all the publisher’s erotic offerings, people were most amazed by “the pervy stuff.” Rare, queer magazines from the ’80s and ’90s had been particularly popular throughout the evening. Kodaira pointed out two publications of photographs by Kochi and Keiichi Inamine. 

The most inventive presentation strategy goes to Éditions Peinture, which mounted their books and those of Lagon Revue atop charming, expanding foam supports. A mass of foam was also spitting out pink receipt paper that doubled as the company’s business card. At the booth, Jin Angdoo showed me Mathieu Julien’s books, which each feature a unique tile “cover” atop thick cardboard pages. Angdoo described the fair as “well-organized and proper” compared to what goes on in Paris, where she recently lived.

Eventually, I found my way to the poetry reading, which took place in a hallway. Semiotext(e) Co-Editor Hedi El Kholti sat up front, surrounded by other listeners perched atop soft cushions. Reines read from her new book, The Rose (2022), about plastic filling our bodies and her unfulfilling love affairs. She tossed pages onto the floor as she finished reading from them. “I felt I had to respect what seduced me, even if stupidly, even when it made me stupid,” she read. As doors slammed open, crowds shouted and greeted each other, and audience members came and went, Reines continued reading. 

Poet Ariana Reines (photo by Casey Winkleman, courtesy Printed Matter)
Stand of the Stand of Bong Sadhu publishing house (photo by Nina Fernandez, courtesy Printed Matter)

Alina Cohen lives and writes in Los Angeles. You can follow her @alinacohen.