The rise of art fairs has not been all that bad. Yes, we’re stuck with the same galleries showing the same work, but we’ve also seen a rise in alternative venues, the most common being art book fairs. Whether it’s LA or New York, the fairs often have a frenetic energy, particularly the sections dedicated to artist-made zines, which in addition to artist books, often include performances, the sale of related ephemera (think buttons and stickers) and zealous trading. Fair sections divide exhibitors by rare book dealers, distributors and artists. Even the poorest of us can afford something at the fair, which means every visitor can leave with a sense of being able to directly support the livelihood of artists.
Here in Toronto, the arrival of the new Toronto Art Book Fair (TOABF) — which opens today in a historic schoolhouse in the West End, and runs to the end of this weekend — has been enthusiastically received by the local arts community. In fact, much of my Instagram has been filled for the past week with artists like Micah Lexier and Lido Pimienta proudly snapping the wares they’ll be selling. With a tightly-curated 75 vendors participating, it appears the free public event has been far more successful than either Art Toronto or the recently-ended Feature in attracting the involvement of international vendors. Art Toronto mostly attracts galleries outside Canada under its FOCUS curated section (for the 2016 edition in October, it’ll be Latin America) and because Feature was organized by Montreal’s Association des galeries d’art contemporain, it was criticized by local gallerists for its Quebec-heavy regionalism. Further, since Toronto isn’t a “traditional art capital”, those fairs have been challenged in representing a discerning edit of the local commercial gallery scene.