Books Are Well and Alive at the Art Book Fair in New York City

by Sara Rozenberg

Published at 2013-10-04

I had the absolute pleasure of attending the eighth annual New York Art Book Fair a couple of weekends ago, an event I’ve been wanting to go to for some years now but never had the chance. The fair was organized by Printed Matter, the New York–based arts organization founded in the 1970s with the mandate of promoting artist publications. This year’s fair featured 283 exhibitors, over 60 programmed events, and 27,000 attendees.

A Promising Trend


What was the most exciting thing about the fair? For those of us working in the publishing industry, or in any capacity with print and publications, we get used to hearing concerns about the direction the industry is headed in, where publishing is going. Just the other day, I came across the Banff Centre’s blog post on the new world of book publishing (incidentally, a fascinating post on the discoverability of books, particularly for small press publishers). So in the midst of these concerns over the survival of print and publishing in general, it was refreshing to be surrounded by so much activity, from all over the world.


It turns out that people are continuing to do interesting things with books — with content, with different publishing and organizational models, and with the physical form of the book itself. Most of all, publications and publishing are getting people excited, and the fair perfectly captures this celebration. I wouldn’t be doing justice to the New York Art Book Fair if I didn’t outline what the experience of going to the fair was like, or acknowledge the many exhibitors and events hosted at the fair. So perhaps I can walk through some of this experience.


Art Books, Journals, Exhibits, and More...


The fair itself took place in a building of the Museum of Modern Art on Long Island City, filling up three floors as well as the courtyard leading into the main entrance. The first thing you were likely to notice coming in was a small greenhouse, built at the foot of the courtyard and filled with plants and outdoor-themed publications, including landscape photography books and journals on urban agriculture.


The greenhouse was built specifically for the fair by the New York City bookstore and arts publisher Ed Varie, in collaboration with the artist Satoshi Kawamoto. And while the art installation was meant to capture the “grassroots” elements of publishing, it also welcomed attendees with a sense of non-traditional collaboration in art and publishing alike.


Set at either sides of the greenhouse were two large outdoor structures, appropriately named the “dome” and the “schoolyard.”


In the dome were small press publishers, as well as a featured exhibition of out-of-print artist and design publications by the influential Italian designer (and artist publisher) Bruno Munari. A “classroom” talk on Munari, held on Sunday afternoon, was a refreshing reminder of the history of book design and its continued potential in the art publishing world.


In the schoolyard, rows of independent artist and zine publishers offered up small-scale publications, artists’ posters, and samples of innovative printing techniques.


Once entering the main building, attendees were greeted by rooms filled with

  • contemporary art books (on specific artists or movements) 
  • art catalogues (of international art shows and publications) and magazines (including art and culture journals)
  • photography books and university press books
  • exhibitions and historical retrospectives
  • scheduled lectures, book launches, and signings
  • an offset printing plate display, and even a “Swiss focus” room.


Admittedly, I had to forego much of the third floor by Sunday, opting instead to attend some of the scheduled lectures.


I left the New York Art Book Fair with a sense that, internationally, arts organizations, individuals, and publishers (big and small) are working in multiple capacities, often engaging with communities outside their professions, while continuing to publish in print and book formats in very exciting ways.