Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Between and Beyond the Covers

You may be one of those who think that ‘The Book’ is in decline and will soon disappear from common currency, like the typewriter eraser or the dial phone. With E-readers available to deliver information, what’s the point of books? The same question, of course, was asked in the mid 1800’s, but then it was art that was in atrophy and about to disappear. Who needs painting or sculpture when you have photography? But art didn’t go anywhere, did it? Well, yes, it did, but it didn’t go AWAY. In fact it became more ART. With photography handling the mundane tasks like portraiture and recording historical events, art was free to expand beyond traditional boundaries. You know how that story goes.
Now it’s the book’s turn. Last weekend I went to the NY Art Book Fair at P.S.1, the contemporary arm of the Museum of Modern Art, and I can assure you that the book is far from over. This is not brand-new news for artist book aficionados – the first NY Art Book Fair, which is sponsored by Printed Matter, was held in 2006. And some artists have been making books for a long time, but the field is now exploding. P. S. 1 is a big space, but it was filled top-to-bottom with books, paper publications, and zines, with the artists and publishers who make them, and with a galloping crowd of fans hungry to see what’s new and exciting. So here are a few favorites: The Women’s Studio Workshop (Rosendale, N.Y.) - Sandy and Chris (in the photo) presided over a display of bright, crisply made editions, all impressive in the craftsmanship of the objects and the depth of ideas. The Thing (San Francisco) cleverly offers a periodical in the form of an object designed by an artist – one, by Jonathan Lethem, is a pair of glasses with the text written on the inside of the frame – another was a shoe with a lace bound into a blank book. Art books are thriving in Europe - a featured group from The Netherlands was there in force, along with other international presenters. The Bongoût Gallery (Berlin) and Lubok Verlag (Leipzig) had rich, exciting work on display Bongoût stood out for layered, complex, colorful imagery in large format, while Lubok showed work with masterful printmaking techniques, like the book of Faces in the photo. The beautiful range of thoughtful, well-made books from RedFoxPress, an Irish-Korean collaboration, exemplified the spirit of this art form. I liked the work of Napa Books (Finland) so much that I purchased an exquisite little flip book by one of the principals, Jenni Rope, and was interested to find out that they hold a yearly flip-book competition, with past winners from Japanese and far-flung places. Canadian book artists were also well represented, with a full room of artists and publishers, spilling over with great ideas and beautiful books of all kinds. This is a very vibrant, exciting world where artists are finding great ways to turn a familiar old technology into a leading contemporary art form.