The book as art

The traditional commercial book might be under assault by the Internet and Amazon’s Kindle reading device, but the idea of books and small magazines as pieces of art in themselves proved to be an incredible draw over the weekend at the third annual New York Art Book Fair, held at the huge Phillips de Pury and Company auction space on far west 15th Street.
Dozens of book dealers and artists set up shop for three days and business was brisk according to some of the people I talked with on Sunday — both for the inexpensive, hand-made books by young unknown New York artists and the very costly collectible books signed by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons.
It was fun to wander through the maze-like space, not knowing what you might find around the next corner.
Radical borderline pornographers were selling outrageous magazines like “Butt” and “Straight to Hell,” alongside rather posh book dealers from East Hampton and London.
One booth had ultra-expensive rock art books and other pop music memorabilia — including a copy of the original LP version of The Rolling Stones’s “Sticky Fingers” signed by designer Andy Warhol — just down the way from silk screeners recruited by the j. morrison gallery, who were making very reasonably priced limited edition “man purses” (above) to commemorate the fair.
The art/fashion magazine, Visionaire, had a booth with copies of the quarterly magazine that changes form and content with each new “issue.” A recent Visionaire was in the form of a collection of toy robots in a case, another looked like a neatly folded denim jacket (inside were photos by Terry Richardson, the fashion-portrait photographer who makes all of his subjects look like adult film actors). Some of the early numbers of Visionaire sell for thousands of dollars now.
The annual book fair is the brainchild of Printed Matter, Inc. which describes itself as “the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists.”
Founded as a for-profit alternative arts space in 1976 by artists and art workers, Printed Matter reincorporated in 1978 as a non-profit organization, moving from Tribeca to SoHo to its current storefront location in Chelsea’s gallery district.