As more and more people turn to the Internet to do their shopping, small bookstores -- and art bookstores in particular -- haven't stood a chance against websites like Amazon.com, and many have been forced to close up shop. But in New York, one such store has withstood the storm. Printed Matter, which specializes in rare art publications, sits in the heart of Chelsea, among the galleries and at the center of the New York art world. A. A. Bronson, the store's executive director, says they have been able to stay afloat because the books they carry are either unavailable through the Internet, or at least very hard to find. Although the store is doing well, Bronson and others at Printed Matter have been concerned that New York is losing its stronghold as the center for art publications. "Where as New York was once known as one of the major world centers for art books, now it's not very much at all," says Bronson. In response, in 2006 they organized the New York Art Book Fair as an effort of reestablish New York as the mecca for art books. Since the first fair, it has more than doubled in size, from the initial 70 exhibitors to this year's 143 exhibitors from across the globe.
In addition to being a marketplace for rare and hard-to-find art books, the fair is just as much about being place for the exhibitors to engage in a community -- to interact with each other, share ideas and make friends. Fair organizer Moe Johnston says, "It's like any other kind of fair or festival when people are interested in something very, very particular and suddenly introduced to a huge community of people. It can be really electric." Thanks to connections made at last year's Art Book Fair, Nieves, a small Zurich-based publisher, was able to launch a small exhibition in Los Angeles. And there are now plans for Nieves to hold an exhibition with Printed Matter toward the beginning of next year.
The fair, free and open to the public, brings together a broad range of publications, from well-established magazines like Artforum to the seemingly endless number of independent publications. These small, Do-It-Yourself style zines are central to the heart of the fair, and about a third of the booths are given away for free to small publications who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Bringing in giant publishers makes for a more comprehensive collection, but mostly, it helps pay the bills. Bronson and Johnston serve as the main organizers, with a committee comprised of art world heavy-hitters Philip Aarons, Skuta Helgason, Carolina Nitsch, Richard Prince, Dieter von Graffenreid, John Waters and Matthew Zucker.
This year Printed Matter has helped organize a conference on artist books with the Art Librarians Society, which will bring in 170 librarians to the fair's opening night. This gives the libraries a chance to hand pick publications they feel are relevant to their collection, and places these books in the hands of other communities, ordinarily shut off from the New York art world.
But perhaps most exciting is this year's Queer Zines exhibition. It's the first survey of this kind ever brought together in one location. Bronson, Aarons and PAPER contributor Alex Gartenfeld curated the project, compiling over 100 publications (spanning the 1970s to now) from international independent publishers with a "queer sensibility." A 250-page catalog accompanies the exhibition, making this the largest project associated with the book fair to date.
Despite the wide scope of this year's fair, Bronson has even higher hopes for next year. "I think we're going to have to move to a bigger venue. There's just such a demandâ¦ I don't know how we're going to do it, but we actually need to grow a bit."
The New York Art Book Fair
Phillips de Pury & Company
450 W. 15th St., 3rd Floor, (212) 925-0325.
Thursday, Oct. 23, 6-9 p.m. $20.
Free and open to the public:
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24 & 25, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.