Wish You Were Here: A Postcard from the LA Art Book Fair

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From January 31 through February 2, over 260 international presses, booksellers, antiquarians, artists, and independent publishers descended on the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to usher in the second SoCal version of the 8-year-old NY Art Book Fair. Publishers, dealers, and designers carried in their boxes of rare books, handmade zines, artist editions, and other ephemera for a four-day celebration of and -- for some -- shopping spree in the midst of all things print-related.

If the number of my surprise run-ins with fellow Bay Area dwellers is any measure, Northern California was well represented at the fair. Holding down the fort, in alphabetical order, were [ 2nd floor projects ], Basement, CCOOLL, Colpa, Gallery 16, Hamburger Eyes, LAND AND SEA, Little Big Man Books, Little Paper Planes, modlitbooks, Needles & Pens, TBW Books, and THE THING Quarterly. I can't even begin to include a list of all the vendors offering up publications created by or featuring the work of Bay Area-based artists, writers, and poets.

The best part of the fair is watching people -- die-hard producers of printed matter -- interact with one another. A large majority of the people behind the tables at the LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) run their operations out of garages and studios, off desktop computers in the hours between full-time jobs and other life obligations. They sell publications online, via friendly bookstores, or at sporadic hosted public events. But at the LAABF they set up across the aisle from like-minded presses usually continents away, rubbing elbows with colleagues, fans, collectors, and fellow print enthusiasts. At the LAABF, an entire dispersed network of people making things becomes tangible -- and shacks up under the same roof for four days.

I'm not one to talk about energy, but let me tell you, the energy is great.


This year, I weathered the fair a bit better than my 2013 attempt. Run-ins with long-lost faces from the past didn't surprise me as much. I paced myself. I stayed hydrated. Routinely, I checked in with vendors from the Bay Area to see how the fair was treating them, to gauge their enthusiasm or exhaustion, and offer moral support.

THE THING premiered their latest artist edition from John Baldessari. For those of you who didn't make it down, I won't ruin the surprise coming to your mailboxes in one of those artfully folded cardboard boxes. Showcasing past issues and projects, THE THING team was at least four people deep at all times, fielding dozens of interested parties beneath a bright red vinyl dot on the wall. Occupying a cushy corner spot in a main thoroughfare, they had the space and vantage point to escape the fair's crush.

Needles & Pens / & Pens Press
Needles & Pens / & Pens Press

In the crush, Little Paper Planes and Needles & Pens occupied single tables in a room of 30 other vendors. Little Paper Planes offered a small sampling of their Valencia storefront's wares, including tiny potted air plants, self-published zines and cast rubber museum stands by Bay Area artist Dana Hemenway. Just two tables over, Needles & Pens (and their new LA satellite bookstore/gallery space & Pens Press) stocked familiar multi-colored stacks of zines.

At the other end of the Geffen, a section called (XE)ROX & PAPER + SCISSORS held some the most exciting (and affordable) work of the bunch. Disclaimer alert: I came down from San Francisco with the combination table of Colpa and Basement; the former a publisher, the latter a creative collective in the Mission. Offering up a mixture of copy-store produced and high end art publications, the Colpa / Basement table sold out a number of their offerings, but collectively the group purchased just as many -- if not more -- books than they sold.

Here lies a fundamental challenge at any fair. Surrounded by beautiful objects, clever projects, and things you've always dreamed of touching, the 55,000 square-foot space at the Geffen becomes completely overwhelming. You can't help but want everything, purchase some things, and then painfully regret leaving other things behind.


LAND AND SEA and [ 2nd floor projects ] showcased opposite display methods. LAND AND SEA showed the Chris Duncan-produced 100-edition OVERVIEW, a collection of 79 Risograph prints by 81 artists. The contents displayed salon-style on the wall above their table, Duncan had maybe five items on his table. Margaret Tedesco of [ 2nd floor projects ] had maybe 50. Featuring the material of artists she's worked with in her exhibition program, Tedesco had (among other items) vintage zines from the '90s, a Kuchar DVD and Linda Geary's recent book Studio Visit. In their separate ways, Duncan and Tedesco represented a living archive of Bay Area art, faithfully bringing the ethos of our art scene into conversation with the countless other innovative projects taking shape as printed matter.

With an extra bag full of books and weary eyes from ogling just about everything at the fair, I stumbled back to San Francisco on Sunday night, my belief in print culture reaffirmed once again by the LA Art Book Fair.

The LA Art Book Fair took place January 31 to February 2, 2014. For more information visit laartbookfair.net.