A week or so before the recent NY Art Book Fair at PS1, Nicholas Gottlund of independent publisher Gottlund Verlag posted a ten-second clip from Seinfeld to his blog. ”What is this obsession people have with books?” Jerry asks George, “They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?”
George’s response—”They’re my books!”—is typical of George and probably plenty of other bibliophiles out there. But, even as many people (including my own parents) do the lion’s share of their reading on a Kindle these days, there are plenty of other less selfish reasons to go on clinging to the printed page. At the NY Art Book Fair, the profusion of independent publishers made a fine case for clearing out space on the shelves for books, whether they’re destined to be trophies or not.
Established in 2007, Gottlund Verlag is one of them. “Verlag” is the German word for “publisher,” and although Gottlund isn’t based in Germany (he works out of studios in Baltimore, MD and Kutztown, PA) the Teutonic flavoring is no mere affectation. The studio is housed in a picturesque nineteenth century Pennsylvania Dutch barn. There’s even hex signs painted on the walls. From this enchanting space, Gottlund collaborates with artists like photographers Coley Brown and Ed Panar on every step of the book’s design before producing them by hand in the studio. He and many of the other publishers were on hand at the fair to sell their wares and talk shop.
The entire fair was ripe with confabbing. I tripped into it myself in a corner room of PS1 given over to Werkplaats Typografie, a graduate design program in Arnhem, The Netherlands. The room had been turned into the “Mary Shelley Facsimile Library” of print media scanned and reproduced by current students in the program. As one of the students, Laure Giletti, explained to me, each student compiled a list of sources they’re interested in and wrote a text stringing them together. These “Frankensteined” annotated bibliographies were bound into nifty booklets and sold for three bucks each. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster, the booklets are held together by glue, not stitching. The room was outfitted with coffee and cookies to encourage fellow bookworms to hang out and swap more references. Giletti reminded me of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book and I went on and on about the Whole Earth Catalog I had pored over earlier in the day.
Other folks were sharing their reference points too. Golden Age was also at the fair with their book Reference Work, published during a recent exhibition at the MCA Chicago. In it, proprietors Martine Syms and Marco Kane Braunschweiler share their favorite business books, self-help resources, a business course syllabus, and personal notes on operating their store in Chicago. As they note, there’s no clear roadmap for running a successful art book shop. This makes searching out business aids that do exist—think of that aisle in any chain bookstore with the cringe-inducing covers—a necessity. The unapologetically commercial world of business self-help publishing might seem like the last place artists might look to for value, but Syms and Braunschweiler make the case that, if properly distilled, the references gathered in their book might actually prove helpful. It seems to me that this is the most any bibliophile could ask of the shelves sagging under the weight of his or her books. Rather than becoming trophies, one might hope that some volatile drops of wisdom might seep out from the shelves and, pooling together, set off sparks that bring the monster to life.
Bad at Sports is pleased to have Martine Syms of Golden Age as a guest blogger with her picks from last week’s New York Art Book Fair. “Martine Syms is a conceptual entrepreneur based in Chicago, Illinois. You can usually find her doing “research” (reading blogs) in the back office at Golden Age or watching television shows on DVD. Golden Age is a concept shop, founded in 2007, that sells publications, music, apparel and other editioned works created by artists. Golden Age makes a statement about an alternative mode of making and selling art; that it can be straightforward, accessible, and moderately priced.”
This year Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair claimed all three floors of P.S.1 to present over 200 international booksellers, galleries, and independent publishers/artists including art luminaries Dexter Sinister, Peres Projects, Electronic Arts Intermix, and E-Flux. Unlike most commercial art fairs this year, the NY Art Book Fair managed to escape the shadow of the recession. Everyone seemed to be having fun amongst the many DIY initiatives that have been doing so much with so little for so long. However, similar to most art fairs, NYABF was incredibly overwhelming and I couldn’t possibly see everything. Here are some highlights from last weekends event, if you want to link to projects that I missed, please do so in the comments.
A Modest Proposal For A Serving Library – Dexter Sinister
A Modest Proposal For A Serving Library, Nick Relph and Oliver Payne Dexter Sinister [http://dextersinister.org] (designers Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt) presented a very heady not-so-modest proposal for taking over an abandoned library in Los Angeles that is also the site of the newest video by Brits Nick Relph and Oliver Payne. In the video, books are chroma-keyed onto shelves, and the librarian’s serve red wine. Over the weekend the Serving Library also hosted a screening of Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 with an introduction by my favorite Dot Dot Dot contributor Rob Giampietro.
The Werkplaats Typografie
The Werkplaats Typografie, a Dutch post-graduate design program, brought all 17 students to New York for the fair. Across from a wall displaying their most recent graphic output, the students set up studio in which they would bootleg any of the Werkplaats’ catalogs for a mere $5.