“A book fair, at last! VERY, VERY HAPPY TO SEE YOU!” read the sign on Siglio Press’s table on the first of five floors (including the rooftop) at this year’s New York Art Book Fair (NYABF). This year’s iteration, from October 13–16, marked many changes—from the fact that it is in-person (having either been postponed or virtual for the past three years) to the major shift in venue from MoMA PS1, where the fair has been hosted since 2009, to Chelsea, in the same building the first fair was hosted in 2006. Former director of Printed Matter and founder of the NYABF AA Bronson spoke with artist Nayland Blake at an event on Saturday, October 15, expressing the original ethos of the fair remains the same, “It punches holes in the fabric to create new relationships,” creating an inclusive space for artists and publishers.
Absence has definitely made the heart grow fonder, as this year’s fair embodies all of the sensory and intellectual stimulation of the pre-pandemic years. For those that attend the fair regularly, many familiar names and faces are back. Throughout the four levels of indoor exhibitors, there is a combination of regulars such as the zine publishers 8 Ball Community and Raw Meat Collective, rare and out of print collectors and dealers like Anartist and Boo-Hooray, imprints Siglio and Primary Information, galleries KARMA and David Zwirner, and many more. (The full list of exhibitors is on the fair’s site.)
Each level, including the rooftop, hosted exhibitor projects. One by afila.si, a collective digital library anchored in an Afro-centered perspective of history, collaborated with Anteism Books of Montreal to co-publish In Past Pupils and Smiles by Solange Knowles, a publication that documents the artist’s final performance at the 2019 Venice Biennale, which in part responded to the historic flooding that occurred in Venice that year. Visitors were invited to read and reflect in afila.si and Anteism’s space, which featured ibiyanε sculptural chairs designed by Tania Doumbe Fines and Elodie Dérond, one modeled after an African birthing chair. The reading room concept continued with Thick Press and Post-Radical Pedagogy Project Space, which gathers work by social workers, graphic designers, and educators who are aligned by a commitment to social engagement. The table held copies of Social Change Now: A Guide for Reflection and Connection by Deepa Iyer as a spark for conversation and print-outs of a call for entries for “An Encyclopedia of Radical Helping” organized by Thick Press. As with every year of the fair, David Senior’s Classroom program series provided talks throughout the weekend, as well as Center for Book Arts’ virtual recording of Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference (which you can watch here), featuring a hybrid lecture onsite at CBA with keynote speaker Kameelah Janan Rasheed.
It was also a first time for many exhibitors, such as Seen, a journal of film and visual culture published by BlackStar, a nonprofit in Philadelphia that organizes a film festival and extended programming coming out of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Walking through the fair, I was conscious of how many international exhibitors there were. A few highlights included Hambre, a lesbian publishing initiative based in Santiago that experiments with economic publications, non-conventional formats, and feminist design; PEOPLE WITH NO COUNTRY, a publisher that aims to provide a counterpoint to hierarchies today with artists’ books that explore decolonial subjects through poetry and even coloring books; KWY Ediciones, a publisher of photobooks based in Lima, Peru, that organizes projects through a collaborative process of emerging and established photographers from across Latin America. KWY Ediciones is one of four recipients of the Shannon Michael Cane Award, which grants a complimentary table and an unrestricted stipend to first-time-exhibiting emerging artists. Printed Matter expanded this opportunity for new exhibitors by introducing the Volume Grant this year, an opportunity for artists and publishers who identify as BIPOC. One recipient, Further Reading Press, based in Jakarta, Indonesia, is an independent multi-format publishing platform that organizes events and publishes an annual in-print reader. Further Reading Print No.3: Down South, Outgazing Our Views explores graphic design through perspectives of history, heritage, and sexual and national identities from contributors from Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, to Indonesia.
Next door at Hauser & Wirth, An Incomplete History of Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs is on view through October 29. Organized by Printed Matter, one monitor in the room poses the question, “What is special about the book as an object?” I asked this same question to a few exhibitors. “Books have no rules and all rules and logic are meant to be broken. No limitation, even when people are trying to ban them,” shared Kyle Quinn from Raw Meat Collective. Sarah Chalabi from Dongola Limited Editions, based in Beirut, Lebanon, said, “Books have the unique ability to encompass and make accessible entire universes. In a few pages, you can hear an artist’s voice, understand their perspective, feel the echoes of their soul, and carry that with you wherever you might find yourself going.” Another consistent line I heard from many exhibitors is how vital this fair is to their financial stability; the exposure and networking this event affords them is crucial to these interconnected communities.
The pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of life, forcing us to reframe how we share community, and what new exchanges could look like. It also made clearer systemic racism embedded in cultural, medical, and governmental institutions. Artists and publishers hold space for these conversations. Sharing space with each other, exchanging joy, is a political act.