In Touch at the NY Art Book Fair
Photography faculty member Stacy Mehrfar visits NYABF
September 28, 2018
by Stacy Mehrfar
The New York Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter at MoMA/PS1, is an extravaganza. It is a spectacular parade of art, fashion, performance, zines, objects, swag, the political, the ephemeral, color, sound, buzz, exhibitions, artist talks, signings, book launches, conversations, conceptualizations, food, drink, and brain waves. In all, this affair is an international, wall-to-wall meeting of minds and soul.
I had a chat with artist Pedro Roth while sitting on the jam-packed front steps of PS1. Roth, and his son Damian, were representing The Ministerio de Cultura de la República Argentina, sharing original artist books and limited editions of fellow Argentinian artists. A Hungarian WWII survivor, with a career spanning over 150 International exhibitions, Roth has been an exhibitor at the fair for seven years. I asked him why he has returned so many times. His response? “Every year there are more and more [visitors and exhibitors], but this? This is ... FANTASTIC!” This 13th annual free event hosted 365 exhibitors from all over the world, along with nearly 40,000 visitors throughout the weekend.
Dutch artist Ruth van Beek spoke about her practice in “The Classroom,” a dedicated space that hosts informal presentations ‘that foster dialogue around important themes for contemporary art publishing and the broader community.’ Van Beek described book making as an inverse to creating works for exhibition. “Making books is more democratic. They’re for everyone.” After the talk, one of the audience members asked if she ever considered making a digital book and her response warmed my heart, “No,” she replied, “it’s the tactility of the book object [I’m interested in].
“Tactile” is a great adjective for the fair. Visitors are often encouraged to touch, participate, relate, and communicate with makers and exhibitors. This is a large part of what makes this event so remarkable. I had the chance to handle Stephanie DeMer’s book, The Oblivion Seekers, which was released at this year’s fair. Published by ultraterrestrial.xyz, the book is bound with wood from a fallen tree in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA, the back and front cover are made of a one-sided plexiglass that has been laser etched, and the interior is of unbound inkjet printed photographs on paper. The result is that the images reflect back onto the cover, and like the impact of a black mirror, that reflected image becomes magically palpable.
Another book that stood out is that of Japanese artist Go Itami, Photocopy, published by Rondade. With the only binding being a plug on the top left corner, the viewer is forced to carefully handle the pages one at a time. Each image, printed large and on paper with a sheen that resembles high gsm laser photocopy paper, insists on the viewer’s absolute attention. Being forcefully immersed with each individual image struck me as humorously self-reflexive and joyfully ironic. And the photographs are smart and gloriously colorful to boot.
There is so much to experience at the Art Book Fair that one can easily become overwhelmed. It could take days (perhaps even months) to truly digest all the visual and cerebral information thrown at you. Artist Bill Sullivan said to me that the NYABF is “the Macdaddy, the Superbowl" of all book fairs. What more can one say?