It was a long, motley line that formed around the Jackson Ave entrance to PS 1 on Friday morning for the 2011 New York Art Book Fair. A few were carrying large suitcases, as if they were just arriving from an airport or a hotel. Several times, in the twenty minutes or so before the fair opened, someone would push through the crowd and try to open the door, as if this hadn’t occurred to anyone else. “It’s 11 AM on a weekday.” the pusher-throughs seemed to be thinking. “Why does everyone look so damn cheerful and relaxed?”
Not the least among smiling types was the soft-spoken director AA Bronson, who has said he was “very pleased” with how the fair’s sixth year is shaping up. Himself an art book collector since the late-60s, the soon-to-be-emeritus proprietor of Printed Matter Inc. has let in a healthy variety of the industry’s producers to participate. Part of the range is monetary: peddlers from Yale Press showing off their reprint of Josef Alber’s Interaction of Color (a steal at $140) are sharing space with zine-makers pushing their Xeroxed wares for $3 a piece. Now at twenty countries represented, the geography was pretty range-y, too, with publishers coming in from Slovenia, Italy, China, and Mexico. Holding a room to themselves were students from the Werkplaats Typografie program in the Netherlands, a small, unique institution where Bronson once worked as a critic-in-residence.
Whereas Werkplaats’ program last year involved turning their room into an on-the-spot trading post, in 2011 things looked a little more relaxed. Stretching out on their homey furniture as I sipped coffee from a French press, I could peruse facsimiles of the students’ favorite books at my leisure. Each book included a yellow slip of paper where visitors could contribute to the Werkplaats students’ bibliographies by penciling in suggestions for further reading. It was as civilized as it was friggin’ adorable. Instructor Paul Elliman said he got the presentation idea from a line in the exhibitors’ instructions that read: “This is not a bookshop.”
While this was happening, some of us were off listening to discussion panels about the role of the art book in Soviet samizdat contraband culture, a panel about the use of art books in the juvenile detention system (which was downright inspiring), and a panel about the art book’s relationship to critical theory (which wasn’t). Tauba Auerbach’s keynote speech at 2 PM tomorrow is not to be missed.