Art and Design Book Publishers Get Their Moment in the Sun

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There have been a lot of art fairs in LA recently, but not a lot of marts celebrating the more affordable companion to art: art and design books. Well, that’s about to change,…

It can sometimes feel unnecessary to actually buy physical books in an age where content can be easily found online. In some ways, it’s turned purchasing a book into a special occasion. But from my perspective as a recent post-grad and arts writer with a pretty meager budget, it hasn’t meant saving up for lavish museum catalogs or special editions (although those would be great too).  It’s actually meant the opposite – putting the little money I have into independent publishers that have managed to do a lot in a modest format by staying specialized. Culture and theory titles from Berlin’s Sternberg Press, architectural manifestos from Rotterdam’s NAi, Documenta 13’s 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts, 100 Pamphlets series with Hatje Cantz, and two titles designed by New York graphic design firm Projects Projects for Paper Monument all made it onto my bookshelf last year, all for around two hundred dollars and mostly purchased at small bookstores and art centers.

For those who share this passion to support such indie design publishers, make sure to visit the LA Art Book Fair, opening Thursday evening, January 31, and running through Sunday, February 3. This is a first-time appearance on the West Coast of the art book fair created by New York’s much-loved, non-profit bookstore Printed Matter (seen in photo, above).  The LA Art Book Fair will be taking over MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space, with hundreds of exhibitors – mostly independent publishers, art and design magazines and alternative bookstores—and a line-up of programming, talks, and book signings.  One of its biggest attractions is that the fair is free and open to the public, and while you can peruse rare and out of print artists’ books worth a small fortune, there is also plenty to pick up in the reasonable-to-extremely-inexpensive price point.

The resurgence of small publishing, print quarterlies and art gallery/bookstore hybrids makes an event like this an extra-exciting addition to the LA cultural calendar.  Local businesses are involved, like Ooga Booga (who have just opened a new space in Boyle Heights near the fair), RAM Publications, who distribute titles from architectural publishing houses Verlag Niggli and Arquine, among others, in the US (full disclosure: I work with RAM), and 2nd Cannon Publications, who specialize in artists’ books and multiples.

Must-see booths and events for an architecture and design audience include:

— New York design and civic engagement nonprofit The Center for Urban Pedagogy at the fair’s “Friendly Fire” section on activist publishing

— The fantastic PIN-UP, “the only biannual magazine for architectural entertainment,” will have their own booth in periodicals

— Friday, 2:00 PM, A book signing with Susan Morgan for her new title, Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, presented by East of Borneo

— Saturday, 12:00PM, “Design Authors and Auteurs: Designers’ Books Ascending” — Where do Designers’ Books fit in relation to Artists’ Books? Featuring a roundtable with designers Brian Roettinger, Tanya Rubbak, and Adam Michaels

Preview: Thursday, January 31, 6-9pm

Friday, February 1, 11am-5pm

Saturday, February 2, 11am-6pm

Sunday, February 3, 11am-6pm

More information on the LA Art Book Fair, exhibitors and programming, here.

Maura Lucking is a historian and writer on art, architecture and object culture based in Los Angeles. Her last piece for DnA was about SCI-Arc at Forty.