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Game of Tomes: At the Beloved, Crowded NY Art Book Fair, a Feast for Bibliophiles

Inside the VW Dome.

ALL PHOTOS, EXCEPT WHERE NOTED: ARTNEWS

The big openings of September have now passed, and the NY Art Book Fair, that cherished summer-closing tradition, has returned to MoMA PS1 for the weekend. The opening was last night, and it was exhilarating and charming as ever, with scores of dealers, big and small, wealthy and not, cramming into the old schoolhouse, its VW Dome, and an outdoor tent to offer their wares. It was, as it always is, crowded, and the line to get in stretched well down the block outside during the opening hour. The people want their art books! They cannot be denied.

One of the joys of the NY Art Book Fair is the true range of stuff for sale—in terms of medium, subject, and style. The prices also vary wildly. Rare editions are priced in the thousands, and if you want one of Charles Bukowski’s drawings—and you do!—it will cost you $3,500. At the Marian Goodman booth on the second floor, you could drop €26,000 ($31,000) on a single work by Annette Messager.

Sterling Ruby’s free posters.

But the best stuff is always the cheapest, the zines stapled together with love by devotees who came from far and wide to hawk them for a weekend, or the little buttons that can be had for a dollar—or the Sterling Ruby bright red posters at the Gagosian booth reading WAS / WAR / WON—those are free!

Ruby conceived the whole installation in the booth, complete with bright red walls and shelving with books about war from his collection—from a look at Lockheed’s stealth weapons to a Leon Golub monograph. Not everything is free, though: there are books for sale.

In the dome, as usual, was the artist and publisher Ryan Foerster, joined by his partner, the poet Hannah Buonaguro. Foerster’s booth name seems to change year to year—looking back over his old notes, one reporter found RATSTAR and RASTAPASTA for previous editions—and this year it’s going by TARTARS. Among its offerings are a new volume called The Camera Believes Everything? by Bob Nickas and T-shirts with Hillary Clinton’s face and the words “MADE HISTORY / 2016 / VICTORY.” Foerster said that he had found 500 of them in the trash after Election Day. (An important note: if you spend $10 with TARTARS, you can have a free shot of whiskey.)

An anonymous zine at TARTARS booth.

One other political piece at TARTAR’s booth: a zine called Learning From Mar-a-Lago, by an anonymous artist, that title possibly a riff on Documenta 14’s, “Learning From Athens.” (Update: Actually, as a reader suggested and Foerster confirmed, the nod is to Learning From Las Vegas.) It’s rich with images of United States President’s beloved Florida estate, as well as all sorts of caricatures and satires of it. “It was made by Sean Spicer’s intern,” Foerster said excitedly, “on a copier in the White House.” As the political journalists like to say: big if true. It’s an edition of 50 and priced at $20. Get them while they’re hot.

Elsewhere in the dome, the artist Mitsu Okubo was working the booth of Basement, his San Francisco concern, which was stocked with T-shirts he’s made punning on the names of famous artists—“PUKE TUYMANS,” “AGNES FARTIN’, ” “*SIGH* TWOMBLY,” and so forth. People like to wear them when posing next to works by the artists in question, Okubo said. Whatever makes people happy!

At Electronic Arts Intermix’s booth, rare copies of Film Culture, a magazine founded in 1954 by the experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas and his brother, Adolfas, were on sale for $100 apiece. (The magazine closed up shop in 1996.) One issue from 1966 advertised an Expanded Arts conference that, Jonas says in an introduction, “should also inspire a few artists, those who are temporarily stuck, to break out of the routines of the arts.” Impressively, the issue was only slightly yellowed. (Cinephiles would also be pleased to know that Jim Jarmusch could be spotted in PS1’s basement. He was wearing sunglasses indoors, as he is wont to do.) Not too far from EAI’s booth was a presentation by Marcus Campbell Art Books that features Tomi Ungerer posters from the ’70s. One is called Kiss for Peace and shows a soldier forcing a starving man to lick Lady Liberty’s bare ass.

Arcangel’s Surfware menu of merchandise.

Downstairs, art about digital culture took center stage. Alongside scrappy books by the South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube, each bound together using paper clips and gold tape, Nicodim Gallery was selling a work by Eva and Franco Mattes. It collected early articles about digital art, from the New York Times and other outlets, in the form of faxed papers. They were bound together, with the top article hung by paperclips, and they spilled off the wall and onto the gallery’s table. Meanwhile, Cory Arcangel’s Surfware lifestyle label was peddling fidget spinners with names like “celebs who treat their fans like trash.” For $19.95, you could own a spinner with Jared Leto’s face on it, if you’re into that sort of thing.

During a quick spin through the packed opening, one reporter stumbled over the offerings at the table of Ooga Booga, the revered L.A. bookseller that’s been in that city’s Chinatown since 2004, later opening a second location at 356 S. Mission Road, the project space run by Laura Owens in collaboration with her dealer, Gavin Brown. They had some great stuff, such as Stagger Fancy Press’s Morrissey: Complaints & Apologies (there’s more of the former than the latter), but what caught my eye was Brooks Headley: Specials Graveyard. Headley is, of course, the hero behind Superiority Burger, the East Village vegetarian—and often accidentally vegan—restaurant of some renown. Headley’s also a vet of the Maryland/Virginia hardcore scene. Here, he preserves for posterity a number of the specials scribbled on his restaurant’s whiteboard, before getting erased, once his customers finish off the batch, lost to time. A beer-leavened pancake with young ginger, string beans, and pickled hot peppers! Salt-baked rutabaga with koda brown rice, sesame yogurt, jalapeño-pomegranate syrup and some added breadsticks! A lovely sounding apricot caprese with mozzarella, Thai basil, and crushed pretzels! All delightful. It costs $5.

Badland’s display.

Just north of that price-wise are the offerings at Badlands Unlimited, the beloved publishing house founded by the artist Paul Chan. Badlands has in the past partnered with local souvenir businesses to open Y.oung P.ublisher 99¢ & Up, an installation that operates as a bespoke bodega, and they had a pop-up version here. The toilet paper is $10 and there’s cleaning solution that’s been labeled “Hegelian Clean.”

And a few steps away, in one of the old schoolhouse’s corner classrooms, Karma has plastered the walls, floor to ceiling, with the notebooks and journals of Lee Lozano. Copies are also available in book form at the Karma table, and what a treat they are! Lots to take in, from her lunch plans to a list of all the cigarettes she smoked per day. One little piece of gossip caught a reporter’s eye. It’s an entry from May 16, 1969:

IN 1965 (?) KASPER KONIG SAID TO ME:

“YOU ARE A GOOD PAINTER AND A NICE GIRL!”

I REPLIED:

“WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS. I’M A VERY GOOD PAINTER AND NOT A NICE GIRL!”

The cover of the Brooks Headley zine at Ooga Booga.

The line for MoMA PS1’s M. Wells Dinette ran out the door by the end of the evening. Meanwhile, upstairs, a food-related exhibition was on view at the booth of Arthur Fournier Fine & Rare, though no actual foodstuffs were available there. The dealer was showing the archives of the Starving Artists’ Cookbook, a short-lived project begun in 1986 that collected recipes by artists strapped for cash, for artists strapped for cash. Master videotapes for works by Louise Bourgeois and Tony Conrad related to the project were on display alongside a recipe for a Hannah Wilke dish called “Mussels Mania.” Not confident enough to cook Wilke’s mussels? Try John Cage’s “Soup Des Jours,” which includes burdock, carrots, radish, and beans, along with any protein you desire. The recipe’s title refers to the extra leftovers you’re supposed to add to the mix, to change the flavor each day. Cage notes, “It is especially good served with freshly cooked or leftover soba or rice.” It seems a shame that he never got to experience Superiority Burger.

A slideshow from the event follows below.

Update, September 23: This post has been updated to correct that Gagosian does have items for sale at its booth.

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