• Digging for Artist’s Books in New York – Elaina Ganim

    Date posted: April 29, 2006 Author: jolanta

    Digging for Artist’s Books in New York

    Elaina Ganim

    New York is not the book farm that it used to be. Gargantuan publishing houses have run over the city independents. On the fringe of the fringe of small press/ no press publishing, artist’s books–where the book itself is conceived of as an artwork–thrive despite the depersonalization of the book world. The few bookstores that carry them hold cult status.

    Printed Matter sells only artist’s books (not books about art), almost single-handedly preserving the genre in America in inexpensive and conceptual contemporary book works. Its new digs make the huge stock more accessible. They are also able to keep the tiniest of books as well as fragile pop-ups, stacks of flips, accordion folds, and card books. If it’s made in at least one hundred copies, most likely Printed Matter will have it. But, they do not deal in unique works or sculptures made of books: the artwork is in the concept more than the craft.

    Across 22nd Street from Printed Matter stands their earlier patron Dia and its newly expanded bookstore. The Dia Bookshop, designed by Jorge Pardo, is a voluptuous book boutique with a large case devoted to artist’s books. In addition, many of the art catalogues shelved in the art book section can be considered part of the genre. Installation / conceptual artists such as Ilya Kabakov, Sophie Calle, and Joseph Kosuth make their catalogues as conceptual art pieces in themselves. In this way, a book is an installation space in the palm of your hand, a portable hole.

    Another newly designed space in Chelsea, the relocated Ursus Books carries many smaller run catalogue / artist’s books. The specially crafted shelves hold countless titles both in and out of print. Many of the new books of this type are distributed by D.A.P. in New York City which provides bookstores with independently published books otherwise difficult to find.

    The last bastion in Soho, the New Museum Bookshop trades in these types of catalogues as well as small format artist’s books and many titles from abroad. Easy to miss below the museum on Broadway, the subterranean space is actually expansive with long tables and vitrines filled with new arrivals. They carefully display smaller edition books often physically too small to have ‘shelf presence’, a trait essential in corporate superstores where these books would get lost.

    Across the water, Spoonbill and Sugartown carries small independent books, larger run artist’s books, and out of print titles. Spoonbill is very much a part of their community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one of the only remaining residential art districts. Many artist’s books are being made in this area.

    On 57th Street Hacker Strand Art Books is more of an archeological site than a curated space. You can get some just published pieces at a discount and also find obscure works hidden in the shelves. Half a block down, Rizzoli Bookstore also manages some titles upstairs. But it is sparse in contemporary art catalogues and conceptual work outside of photography and architecture.

    As a last note, Housing Works Used Book Cafe’s ever revolving stock often surprises. They can hardly keep art books on the shelves, but there is always a chance at a find from a small museum far away that had the vision to publish an artist’s work as a book.

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