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A report from the NY Art Book Fair 0

Weronika Trojańska

The NY Art Book Fair, MoMA PS1, New York
September 22-24.2017

On Friday, once again The NY Art Book Fair opened its doors to the public as it offered a three-day celebration for art book lovers. This event – organized by the world-leading non-profit organization dedicated to artist books, Printed Matter Inc. (located in the heart of the busy Chelsea art district in New York City) – is more than a book fair. It’s a holiday, festival, art show, and party, all in one. It offers a platform for independent art publishing to promote their work, meet other publishers, make contacts, and get to know people passionate about art books; it’s also an event where visitors can discover new books, buy some stuff, and hunt for rare editions.

Twelve years have already passed since The NY Art Book Fair was established by AA Bronson – artist, shaman, co-founder of the legendary General Idea collective, and eventually, president of Printed Matter. Since then it has become the world’s largest book fair for artist books and other publications and ephemera (catalogs, zines, records, etc.), as well as a platform for exhibitions, talks, workshops, book launches and performances related to the state of publishing at large. Free and open to the public, the fair is held every fall in New York, featuring over 370 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions and independent publishers from around 30 countries, and attended by over 39,000 visitors. And this year it is no different.

Hosted for the eighth time by MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, the 2017 NY Art Book Fair takes place over the weekend of September 22-24, and already during its first opening hours it is literally flooded with visitors. I don’t think I have seen so many people at any of the art fairs I have had a chance to attend. The overwhelming crowd and myriad of exhibitors is practically headache-inducing, not to mention a likely trigger for anxiety for those with even the slightest claustrophobic tendencies. With every minute it is getting harder to browse the books and to move around, but no one wants to miss anything. Amongst the countless stands of publishers, there are several from Baltic and Scandinavian countries (many of which are exhibiting at The NY Art Book Fair for the first time), and a few of them are particularly worthy of attention.

Lugemik, Estonia 

At the beginning of my journey through the labyrinth of tables piled with books, I met artist Anu Vahtra and graphic designer Indrek Sirkel, the founders of Lugemik, a publishing house and a bookshop (on the premises of the Contemporary Art Museum Estonia - EKKM) based in Tallinn, Estonia. This year Lugemik is premiering three publications in New York. Fresh off the presses is “To Good To Be Photographed”, by curator and artist Paul Paper, which explores the intricate relationship between photography and failure; it was launched just a few days ago at the Rubber Factory in the Lower East Side. “The Travelers. Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe” (edited by Polish art historian and curator Magdalena Moskalewicz) accompanies an exhibition with the same title (Zachęta—National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, 2016; Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, 2017); the book contains an overview of all of the artworks presented in the show. The third title is a beautiful monograph featuring the Estonian artist Flo Kasearu. In three chapters, “Flo’s Book" covers almost every work she has done from 2006 to 2016.

&editions, Lithuania

The Vilnius-based non-profit publishing initiative &Editions astonishes with exclusive limited edition prints, books, and zines by established and emerging artists from the Baltic region. In their stand one could find, for example: Vytenis Burokas’ mysterious play about philosophy and beer, “The Metaphysics Of Beer: A Symposium Of Humans And Microorganisms” (2016); unique editions by artists such as Deimantas Narkevičius ("Green Bridge Peasants", 2016) and Robertas Narkus ("DOGHME", 2017); and two special prints done in collaboration with the legendary filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Special attention is deserved by NOTHING BUT, a printed silk scarf (edition of 10) designed by Ulijona Odišarija, a Lithuanian artist and DJ based in London, and Rūta Kiskis, a visual communicator and production designer.

Publications featuring a variety of Lithuanian photographers were shown by the art space and publishers Kaunas Photography Gallery. Many of the books that they’ve published have gained international recognition, like the monograph of Vitas Luckus, and Vytautas V. Stanionis’ book "Photographs for documents". At NYABF 2017, they’re also presenting for the first time several publications that have just come out this year.

Another Vilnius-based independent publishing initiative that promotes Lithuanian artists almost exclusively is NoRoutine Books. They focus mainly on the medium of photography, and each book that they publish is strictly limited to 99 copies. “The books usually come with some kind of an extra, like a Polaroid or a black and white silver gelatin print”, explains co-founder Vilma Samulionyte.

Russian Independent Self Published 

An interest in photography and ephemera also manifests in the books available at Russian Independent Self-Published, a publishing house founded in 2015 by Natalia Baluta, Alla Mirovskaya, and Elena Kholkina. “Awareness of the photo-book medium in Russia is low, but RIS is involved in its development, and participation in international festivals allows us to get much broader exposure,” says the publisher’s statement in the NYABF catalog. Focused primarily on photography depicting Soviet myths and archetypes of Russian culture and mentality, the array of books on display at the Russian Independent Self-Published stand ranges from sleek photo books and handmade editions to vintage Russian tales for children.  

Fukt Magazine, Norway 

Among the Scandinavian countries, Norway has the largest amount of exhibitors, including the frequently participating Fukt Magazine, Torpedo Press, Kurt Johannessen, and Teknisk Industri. It was no surprise that The NY Art Book Fair old-timer, Libraryman, from Sweden, showed up again this year, as well as Lodret Vandret, a collaborative based in both Copenhagen and Berlin. New to the fair is Trojan Horse Press, owned by the founders of V1 Gallery and Eighteen Gallery from Copenhagen; the publishers are interested in not only publishing the work of artists shown at their galleries, but anything by “people that are making good printed stuff”, as explained Jesper Elg, the director of V1 Gallery, which “represents a select group of emerging and established artists and is committed to introducing art, in all media, to an international audience”. Specially for NYABF, they have prepared twelve special issues of artists’ publications and eight new prints.

The 12th NY Art Book Fair ends on Sunday evening. It will leave people with more stuff to store in their personal libraries, less money, and new friends, but most of all, they’ll be left with a bright image of the vibrant art book scene that seems to be doing well, if not better than ever, despite the fact that we’re living in the era of the Internet.

NoRoutine Books, Lithuania

Libraryman, Sweden

V1 Gallery, Copenhagen 

Kaunas Photography Gallery, Lithuania

Kaunas Photography Gallery, Lithuania

Torpedo Press, Norway

Russian Independent Self Published 


&editions, Lithuania

Lugemik, Estonia