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Review of the NY Art Book Fair 2009

On my rounds a few weeks back of the galleries, I stopped into Printed Matter to check out if there was anything titillating for me to browse through. One of my favorite things to do, especially when I was a student, is to spend hours thumbing through books at the bookstore.

I haven’t been doing that so much lately, partly due to the fact that there really aren’t many bookstores left. Barnes & Noble and Borders Books put all the mom-and-pop shops out of business, and now Amazon has been doing the same to B&H and Borders. It’s amazing to watch evolution at work before our very eyes.

So I got there early on Saturday moring, to try and beat the crowds. In general I love crowds, but when you’re trying to get something accomplished, the crowds in NYC can be debilitating. The first encounter I had was with Leandro Erlich’s “Swimming Pool” installation, which was really quite fun, and initially jarring. You approach the piece from above. It is designed to look like a swimming pool and accompanying deck.  You peer into the crystal blue water, and there’s someone standing at the bottom of the pool!  Do they have weights on thier ankles? How do they hold their breathe for so long?  Then you realize that the person on the bottom is just another art viewer, who has entered the pool from a room below. The water is only a few inches deep, on the top of a sheet of plexiglass, with fans blowing to create waves.  It’s very funny.

So typical for events at PS1, the crowd consisted greatly of those 20-somethings from Brooklyn, with their trailer-park chic, and their porcelain white skin. Coming from Washington Heights, I forget how pleasantly idyllic the lives of the pseudo-unwashed can be. I long to be there again.

So one of the great disappointments of the NY Art Book Fair 2009, is that I missed many of the things of interest. Apparently there were many conferences, book signings, performances, etc. going on for the 3 days plus that the fair was held.  The only indication of them was a chalkboard at the entrance cryptically listing all of the event names and times. I had briefly glanced at the website before heading over, and knew there was stuff going on, but I couldn’t find it. I looked for a flyer with the description of the events (it is a print fair after all) one didn’t exist. I went up to the floor where the conferences were held, and tried asking around. There were plenty of security staff, and maybe one NY Art Book Fair staff, who answered one person’s question, and quickly walked in another direction. I stuck my head in one classroom, where I got a glimpse of AA Bronson, the surviving member of General Idea, a group of 3 artists from Canada who did artistic commentary on the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s.  The door was quickly shut as they were setting up an exhibit of some sort.

So I just found the schedule of events in the back of the book which listed all the contributors in attendance. My bad.  I guess I should have investigated a little deeper. Or maybe they could have posted the schedule in key places around the event.

An ongoing dialog that I have been having with my colleagues, is whether print is dead. As a graphic designer who started in print design in the late 1990s, I was pulled, kicking and screaming into the web. Yes, there is the daunting task of learning about programming, and the technical aspects of how the Internet works, plus the great work involved in making communication design secondary to the information being conveyed. It requires both creative skill and mathematical abilities to do web design effectively. Print is much more immediate, and discrete in its work.

The works presented were varied in the scope and purpose. There were many artist catalogs for sale by the artists themselves, the galleries that represent them, the publishers that produce them, and even the booksellers who promote them.  The experience was very multicultural, which languages of all sorts being spoken. There was representation from Canada, Mexico, and California (yes, to me, CA is a totally separate nation.)

My favorite were the hand made books created by the artists themselves. There were a couple that I picked up, that didn’t necessary stand out from the rest for anyone other than me.

The first was a small book created by a recent graduate of OCAD, the oldest art and design school in Canada. Ryan Dodgson drew simple line drawings of his friends, and in place of their heads, he had buildings from around the Toronto area. A very sweet, simple idea.

The drawings were photocopied and saddle stitched by hand, printed on what I hope is acid free paper.

The second piece that I got was a truly wonderful book by Mel Kadel.  It is an edition of 100, titled Spring Lounge. The drawings are exquisitely rendered, and printed on hand stained paper, and printed using an inkjet printer. The images make reference to the psychedelic 60s, wall paper, graphic novels, illustrated maps, and Chinese landscape painting. I really love it.

The variety of works in the fair was inspiring. Magazines that cross the lines of architecture, design, and style sharing a table with a magazine specializing in those whose sexual focus it “the behind”. That zine was aptly named Butt. Elsewhere, I picked up a couple of newsprint images, offered for free, depicting a straight couple enjoying themselves on a roof top.

Then there was The Thing. The Thing is a quarterly periodical which, instead of print, the subscriber receives an object. The artists range from visual artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers. The concept is brilliant.  The objects were interesting.

In all, it was a very enjoyable experience. I look forward to next year’s fair.  This time, I’ll try and be a little better prepared.

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