Colorful characters share rarities at book fair

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Outside the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo, LA’s most stylish and pop-cultured residents gather near several food trucks and a small stage before being swept into the LA Art Book Fair. The free public event is put on by Printed Matter, a nonprofit arts organization based in New York.

“There’s just obviously a huge enthusiasm,” said Keith Gray, a program and press coordinator for Printed Matter. “To have this expo of different independent publishers with an opportunity for people to kind of put together and present new publications seemed like something that there was a real interest in.”

The original Art Book Fair started in New York 10 years ago as a way for people in the art-book publishing and collecting communities to share new works and sell antique or rare art books. An art book — a fairly broad term — is visual art published in the form of a book. Four years ago, Printed Matter decided to extend the fair to LA. Exhibitors come from all over the world, although Gray notes that the nonprofit makes a particular effort to bring in local artists and independent publishers.

The event, which ran from Feb. 12–14, occupied a maze of white-walled gallery-style rooms. About 300 exhibitors took tables at the fair, many bringing posters or T-shirts to sell, tacked on the walls behind them. The bustle and mania was organized into several different sections — a space for zines, a space for antiquarian (old and rare) book dealers, a space for periodicals and magazines and a photography books space lofted above the rest of the warehouse. In conjunction with the fair, Printed Matter also hosts the Classroom Series — a space where artists, writers and publishers can give talks, workshops and readings or share new publications.

A stage just outside the venue featured a rotating selection of performers throughout each day of the fair. Geneva Jacuzzi performed early Friday evening and sang with a ragged edge to her voice, reinforced by reverb, over a dreamy synth track. Silver sequins draped masked dancers behind her.

Paul Lawrence, a London-based antiquarian book dealer, attended the fair to display part of his collection of rare antique art books. As he normally sells his books by appointment only, the fair was a unique opportunity to interact with the general public in a way in which he’s not accustomed.

“It’s quite nice to bump into people who basically know the same things that you know about, and more,” said Lawrence. “They teach you stuff, as well. That’s the nice thing about fairs.”

Lawrence’s face lit up when he described his favorite book on display. He carefully pulled out “Mémoires” from a thin box in the display case, where his most precious books are kept. “Mémoires” is a 1969 series of collages by French artist and theorist Guy Debord, made in collaboration with Danish artist Asger Jorn. It is bound in sandpaper so as to destroy any other book sitting next to it on a shelf. Colored paint and fragmented thoughts are scattered across the pages — it is an exercise in psycho-geography, the physical mapping of ideas.

“That’s my favorite book ever,” said Lawrence. “It’s also quite possibly the rarest artist book there is.”

Meanwhile, Miami-based Lillian Banderas has been working at independent printing press DALE with colleague Steve Saiz for the past four years. Their press mainly creates zines, small magazine-style publications with unconventional content and DIY vibes. Banderas and Saiz visit the LA Art Book Fair to network and sell zines and art, particularly to see how people react to the zines and to find out which ones sell well.

One of the zines DALE prints is called “Prisoner of Love,” a compilation of drawings put together by Edgar Rojas.

“His father’s in prison, and he asks other prisoners to draw art for him to send to his family. So you look at the cartoons and it’s really cute and fun, but it also has this sad dark side to it, and I like that,” Banderas said.

Over in the photography section, Jason Lukas and Zach Norman sell spiral bound books they printed in collaboration with Aaron Hegerunder under the label Everything Is Collective (E.I.C.). The three artists sell their publications online and in a few bookshops and also display their photography in galleries. The fair is a unique opportunity for them to discuss their work with the public.

“It forces you to speak about the work in as succinct a way as possible,” said Lukas. “Having to describe these really abstract ideas in a sound bite has been challenging but really useful.”

Norman adds that it’s nice to meet other photographers and publishers in person with whom they have only heard of or talked to long distance. He was most excited about their newest publication, “Afterglow: Compact, Orientable, Spacelike,” by Jaclyn Wright. Lukas is nostalgic, though, for the first project that he, Norman and Hegert produced together in 2013, which was titled “Deliberate Operations” — they printed out and stapled the first copies at Kinkos.

“Since there’s three of us we can bounce ideas off each other. Instead of coming into it with something specific in mind, and saying ‘I’m going to do it just like this,’ it kind of dictates when it’s done and what it is,” Lukas said.

The 2016 LA Art Book Fair will likely be back again next year in the spring.