Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books, books everywhere

You’d think a gathering of hip and beautiful people might verge on pretentious, but the LA Art Book Fair was a cliché-trumper. A colorful scene decked the galleries of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA with a swirl of eager visitors migrating from booth to booth, taking in the fair’s decorative spirit, buying everything from artists’ books to periodicals to zines. There was a lot to choose from: 250 exhibitors from 20 countries were there, with a hefty presence from California. It was a proud day for any native. If you weren’t in a book-buying mood, there were tote bags, greeting cards, prints, pins and other goodies up for grabs. Did anyone notice the curious preponderance of cat-themed stuff?

It is immensely gratifying, being able to touch or handle anything on display. Here, if it piqued your interest it would most likely end up in your hands. Be it the first 3-D-printed book or a “garbage zine,” a book of colorful, in-your-face risograph prints or a suitcase housing W.G. Sebald memorabilia, mere moments separated you from different universes. 

Searching for Sebald
Institute for Cultural Inquiry
There were seas of beautifully wrought artist's books. Redfoxpress & Antic-Ham (Ireland) had an eclectic selection, many of them screenprinted. After I picked up Turkish Wedding the vendor himself chimed in: it was based on his son, Govinda's, wedding in Istanbul. Photos, ticket stubs and other ephemera escorted me through an intimate stage in this artist’s life.
I found myself in a variety of such moments. Take the vendor at Harper’s Books (New York) who caught me perusing photos of a stallion undergoing artificial insemination. I gather it was my stunned expression that compelled him to patronize me about the subject matter. What can I say? Sometimes the unfamiliar is jaw-dropping.

Sexuality was strongly present at the fair. A book of vintage photographs published by The Kingsboro Press (New York) revealed images of women in S&M gear. These photos, disseminated surreptitiously in the 50s and 60s, the era of “smut,” were culled together to form Kingboro's newest title, The Periodical Flesh. It was a one-of-a-kind time capsule, and a fine segue into a nearby exhibit presented by Andrew Roth and PPP Editions (New York).

Behind a barrier of rope, 126 books on the social sciences lay neatly displayed on the ground. The perfectly rounded holes carved into their covers revealed erotic photographs of women. It was a comical and thought-provoking convergence of two worlds: academia and sexuality, a binary, if you will, of the sacred and profane.

The fair offered an eye-opening taste of a vibrant landscape, abroad and on L.A.'s own doorstep. Books are here to stay. Ensuring this were exhibitors from England, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands, to name a few, and L.A.-based organizations like Giant Robot 2, KCHUNG Radio, FAMILY Bookstore, and the Institute of Cultural Inquiry. An entire list of exhibitors can be found on the fair's website.

The adventure was cut short at 6:00 PM, closing time. A friend and I were drooling over L.A. neon artist Dan Regan when a security guard rained on our parade. Unable to resist sneaking in one last stop we hurried over to LAND AND SEA, a small press and record label based in Oakland. Moments later the same security guard spotted us. Before being escorted to the door we managed to buy an "exploded book" of 100 glowing risograph prints-- just in the knick of time. It was a steal, and an unexpected after-hours sale by the proud artist who had compiled it.

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