The New York Art Book Fair: An Interview with Executive Director AA Bronson

by Art Fag City on October 1, 2009 · 2 comments Events

POST BY PADDY JOHNSON

Artist, curator, and writer AA Bronson is the executive director of New York's Printed Matter and the NY Art Book Fair. This year’s fourth annual fair departs from their 2008 location at Phillips De Pury to launch at PS1 Contemporary Art Center, October 2—4. The Fair opens for preview today, 6-8 PM at P.S.1.

In this interview, I speak with AA Bronson about the fair, its history, and its objectives
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PADDY JOHNSON: How does the structure of a non-profit art fair differ from one that's for profit? Does it give you more flexibility?

AA BRONSON: The NY Art Book Fair is a non-profit fair, which means that our educational and cultural mission is more important than making a profit. The Fair is essentially curated, with an eye to supporting and promoting a larger art publishing community, both locally and internationally. We are especially aware of the importance of small independent publishers, and our booth prices are low to encourage their participation. Of the 205 exhibitors this year, about 15% were given free stands, located in the Friendly Fire and Flaming Creatures (new this year) sectors of the Fair. Project rooms also help support the educational bias of the Fair: Werkplaats Typographie, in my opinion the most important school for book design today, is bringing their entire student body to present a non-stop program in their project room; and David Senior, a librarian from MoMA, has curated The Classroom, another gallery devoted to nonstop cutting edge programming.

This year we have located the Contemporary Artists Book Conference, which we organize together with ARLIS/NY and an amazing group of New York art librarians from a broad range of institutions. MoMA has been especially supportive with this project.

PJ: You're in PS1 this year — how will this effect the fair?

AB: P.S.1 offers us the possibility of combining the NY Art Book Fair with the Contemporary Artists Books Conference for the first time, which makes for a wonderful synergy. Also, the sheer volume of space has allowed us to devote entire galleries to various kinds of programming initiatives, from exhibitions to lectures to performances to screenings. P.S.1’s history was also inspiring. The NY Art Book Fair is very much artist-driven, and P.S.1’s history as a space occupied by artists feels very present just now. And memories of the P.S.1 residency program from the 70s and 80s, supported by various national governments, can be found in our own decision to incorporate special sections of Canadian and Mexican exhibitors this year–we think of it as a nod to NAFTA! And finally, P.S.1 has been incredibly supportive–we feel we are working with a very like-minded institution.

PJ: Has the fair grown in size again? What is the difference of number of staff needed to launch the first fair versus the fourth?

AB: The Fair has grown from 70 exhibitors and 11 countries the first year, to 205 exhibitors and 22 countries this year. That’s pretty amazing. Our staff is still small, our amazing Fair Coordinator Peter Russo and his part-time assistant Jared Ray, in addition to Printed Matter’s own dedicated staff. Frankly, its a bit tough… we could use more people!

PJ: You mentioned a while back that a group of librarians initially spearheaded the project (the Contemporary Artists Book Conference) after a conference in LA. What is their involvement now?

AB: Yes, it began with four librarians from MoMA, the NYPL, and the Brooklyn Museum meeting with Printed Matter to come up with a strategy for a one-time conference, which was then organized in alignment with last year’s NY Art Book Fair. That group expanded very quickly and currently includes 13 librarians from 10 institutions plus myself and Catherine Krudy from Printed Matter. The librarians are amazing: they plan sessions, approach speakers, strategize the conference as a whole, and then undertake much of the practical work as well, everything from raising money for refreshments to making sure there is enough star power in the lineup of speakers–this year Hans Haacke and Seth Siegelaub provide the celebrity quotient.

PJ: The fair is really diverse. Are there challenges to maintaining that diversity?

AB: Absolutely. This year we added our first exhibitor from Eastern Europe and a group of exhibitors from Mexico, but we still have very little representation from South America or Asia and none from Africa. As far as types of activity, it has been surprisingly easy to attract the small and alternative. It has been more challenging to catch and keep the more mainstream art press, who are more prone to panic when recession strikes. However, our goal is to represent publishing activity at every level. We feel it is important to let new talent percolate up through the various levels of art publishing and this is one way to do it.

PJ: In an interview with ArtForum last year, you said one aim for the fair was to make New York a center for art publishing once more. How do you measure your success in achieving that goal?

AB: This could take a little more time, of course, but I feel we are well on our way.

PJ: Any possibility the fair will become a longer event in the future?

AB: No plans to make it longer and I fear we cannot make it bigger without moving to a more anonymous venue. We love P.S.1 and hope we can stay there for years to come… however, the conditions that made it possible this year may not happen again. As a non-profit initiative, we are always reliant on the generosity of our community to make the magic that becomes The NY Art Book Fair.

This post is the first in a year long interview series with art world professionals made possible with the support of Creative Capital.

art fag city, paddy johnson, arts writers grant

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