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LA Art Book Fair debuts this week: Art books for art books' sake

January 30, 2013|By David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Critic
  • The first LA Art Book Fair takes place this weekend at MOCA.
The first LA Art Book Fair takes place this weekend at MOCA. (Handout )

When it begins this Thursday evening at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the first LA Art Book Fair will showcase print books through an unexpected lens.

Featuring publishers from 20 foreign countries and a dozen states, this is a celebration for both artists and enthusiasts, an expression of the diversity of books as a creative medium, not just a delivery system for words and images but an aesthetic territory all its own.

What you’ll find are not just art books as we generally think of them, but also smaller editions, artist one-offs, handmade books, ephemera, zines.

“Artist’s books fall between art making and bookmaking — with an artist’s book, the book itself is the work of art,” explains Jane Brown of Artbook /D.A.P., perhaps the most prominent national publisher and distributor in the field.

The L.A. fair is an offshoot of the New York Art Book Fair, founded in 2005; given the number of California presses involved — 88 of them, including Southern California’s Siglio, Les Figues, East of Borneo and AMMO Books — it’s no stretch to say that it is also a homecoming of a kind.

For the participating presses, the fair offers a chance to get work before the public. But it also represents an opportunity for some critical mass.

“This is where the renegades, the contrarians, the visionaries, the idealists live,” emails Siglio publisher Lisa Pearson, who will present two new books as well as a variety of limited editions, “the artists who take on a more intimate, small-scale, sometimes ephemeral forms … and the publishers who are finding ways to realize those works, put them in the world, and build an audience for them.”

For Pearson, “there is the sheer thrill and pleasure of touching, looking and reading books that do not obey the general conventions of what a book ‘should be,’” she elaborates. “This is not the familiar experience of walking into a bookstore.… The fact that all of these presses are defying the consistent death-of-the-book knells and making space for beautiful works taking the shape of a book … is testament to either a collective delusion or a real belief in ‘the book’ as a point of connection, as a lasting means of expression.”

The LA Art Book Fair kicks off Thursday at 6 p.m. and continues through Sunday. Admission is free — except, of course, for what you spend on books.

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