Book fair proves print remains relevant

Facebook has more than one billion users; Newsweek magazine has shut down its printing presses; meanwhile, the Huffington Post flaunts 8 million unique users. It is fair to say that the health of print media is noticeably decaying every month. But the L.A. Art Book Fair at the Museum of Contemporary Art, held Friday through Sunday, proved that print media is by no means ready to roll over and die just yet.

Power of print · The L.A. Art Book Fair at the Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates print and art through its showcase of books, poetry, academic journals, vintage magazines and hand-printed comics. - Courtesy of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

Power of print · The L.A. Art Book Fair at the Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates print and art through its showcase of books, poetry, academic journals, vintage magazines and hand-printed comics. – Courtesy of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

The venue was bursting with artsy people, all quirkily dressed to the extreme ends of hipster fashion. Poetry, academic journals, photography collections, vintage magazines, hand-printed comics, posters, philosophical pamphlets and everything in between decorated the tables, manned by artists and publishers promoting their ideas and selling their wares.

“We do lots of collaborations with artists,” said Martin Masetto, who is a representative of the New York-based Arts and Sciences Project, as he sat behind a table covered with books of photographs by artists from all over the world. “They look similar and yet they’re all very different.”

The importance of cooperation between artists and publishers was evident in every room of the Geffen Contemporary, where the lines blurred between genres as well as between business people and artists. Though Masetto was not involved at the fair as an artist himself, he seemed to possess the passion for creativity that any committed artist would as he excitedly described the debut of a new book of photography.

Both an artist and an entrepreneur, Eunice Luk set up at the fair on behalf of her business Fantasy Camp.

“We do mostly hand-bound books and screen-printed posters and newspaper,” she said proudly.

When asked what goes into the making of her printed comics, she replied with a laugh, “Time! We handprint the whole edition, so it’s a lot of work, but it’s satisfying because we really want a rich black, not like a conventional newspaper.”

Without a business-savvy leader, art producers like Fantasy Camp would suffer in the competitiveness of modern art, and, of course, businessmen  would be slow to earn a profit if they were lacking talented artists. But thanks to well-received conventions such as the L.A. Art Book Fair, artists and publishers have had great success in networking their abilities and their resources to forge lasting partnerships.

“I like coming to these fairs and meeting people,” said Paul Windle, an illustrator. He met Luk at a past New York Art Book Fair, and the two ended up sharing a table at the Los Angeles event. “I mostly do editorial illustrations for newspapers and magazines, but I’ve always made zines and screen-prints, so I keep doing it.” And nowhere would Windle’s extraordinary artwork have had a more comfortable home than his table at the festival surrounded by the equally creative and ambitious artist-entrepreneurs that populated the rest of the gallery.

Another like-minded organizer named Kelly Jones advocated a more forward-thinking way to enjoy art books. “At Little Paper Planes, we do printing and publishing of different print collections,” she said, “but it’s all based online.”

Though the 9-year-old business hopes to open a store in San Francisco soon, the arts organization has found a way to remain unique and relevant via the Internet. Folks like Jones believe that as entertainment and news are moving to a partial or complete digital state, so, too, is the world of modern art.

“We do online exhibitions where we work with artists that work in interesting media like sound or video,” Jones continued, “and then they culminate in publications at the end of the process.”

Because no one can deny the possibility that art could one day become a standard form of digital media, some innovators are already beginning to look to the future of online art in hopes of ensuring that this would be a future in hopes that artists could still express their full creativity.

Greg Albers, the publisher of Hol Art Books, is one of the leading figures in the digital publication of artist books. Aside from selling printed jacket sleeves of his company’s books with attached codes that unlock e-book versions on Apple’s iBookstore, Albers used his booth at the fair to promote his Kickstarter initiative for the funding and production of an Apple app called The People’s E-Book.

“Our idea is that e-books are not very interesting right now compared to artist books and creative things we see coming out of the print world,” Albers explains. “The problem is that artists and authors don’t really know what an e-book is.”

According to Albers, most of the especially creative art books that include more than simple text and photos cannot be translated well onto an e-reader or a computer screen, and the creation of a satisfying e-book is an undertaking that requires too much time, effort and money to complete properly. “There’s no easy way to make an e-book, so we want something that will let you put one out in a matter of minutes instead of hours.”

After being active for only two days, The People’s E-Book Kickstarter page had raised over $2,300, but the group still needs about $7,700 before March 2 to become fully funded. So as art and literature slowly move online, Albers aims to “jumpstart creative e-book publishing” by making the process easy, free and available to anyone through his newly designed app.

Despite the decline of print, the afternoon was a glorious testament to the talented masters of print media. The apparent success of Los Angeles’ maiden hosting of New York’s Art Book Fair suggests that the event will return next year. And though the art scene may be shifted a little further away from print by then, two things can be certain: the fair will still be the site of some of the most fascinating print art in the world, and innovators like Albers will be closer to making print artists fall in love with the inevitable online revolution.