What Is an Art Book Fair?25 Dec 2021
Original text in Farsi by Safoora Seyedi
Translated to English by Omid Armat
Art Book Fairs or art-oriented book fairs have been among the most popular institutions of art for the last ten years. The following article aims at explaining the nature of art book fairs and their differences from general book fairs.
What to Expect from an Art Book Fair?
Art book fairs (exhibitions) are events arranged to show and sell books and establish an inclusive linking network among artists, illustrators, writers, and specialized and independent publishers.
Some of these fairs focus on books, magazines, and publications that are considered artworks. For example, some events sell art books that have a very limited number of prints. However, most art book fairs present general art books, graphical novels, cultural magazines, projects, and other publications focused on creative writing and poetry. Similar to annual book fairs, art book fairs are not only focused on sales but are also a place for presenting installations, holding workshops, and discussion panels.
The First Example
Printed Matter is one of the first examples of art book fairs that has distinguished itself from commercial book fairs or art exhibitions. This is a non-profit institution founded in 1976 in New York by setting up a bookstore and a gallery and it was managed by artists in the beginning of its activity. The basic idea of this institution originated from a long-held dream of one of its founders, American artist Sol LeWitt. In the 1960s in America, art dealers used to diminish written notes that artists left behind. A book was not considered art; at best, it could act as an advertising brochure to increase sales for the dealers. However, Sol LeWitt was hopeful that the production and distribution of books would be done by artists. Printed Matter was aiming to introduce publishing as an artistic medium under artists' management; the goal was followed until contemporary art book fairs.
So art book fairs are not just an event for appreciating artists' written notes, but they are also a place to form and organize an art-oriented community. Nowadays, art book fairs are serving the market; not the market in its financial sense, but the place known as the ancient Agora: a public space in which people could gather, negotiate, and exchange. However, the word "public" should be used carefully, since there are notable doubts about the audience population of the art market; many believe that demographic studies of this population show that they are mostly from the middle and upper class. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the audience population of art book fairs is vaster than in other art institutions. Moreover, young artists attempting to participate in other art institutions, such as galleries or art fairs, have to encounter a lot more obstacles. Artists do not need to be backed by famous galleries if they want to own a booth and display their work at art book fairs. This event is a stage for young artists to practice; they can be seen, criticized, and make dialogue with their public audience of art or other artists, outside commercial institutions.
Egalitarian Hopes for an Art Institution
Why an art-oriented exhibition is needed to introduce artists' works and broaden the linking network? Do artists not have the opportunity to display their works in other events like international and national indigenous exhibitions, art fairs, and galleries?
Art book fairs are leads for creating art in the Neoliberalism era with "art, accessible for all" as its motto. Yannick Bouillis, manager of the Offprint art book fair, believes the art world currently needs a separate space in order for the artworks to receive attention and for the artists and amateur art enthusiasts to maintain their independence by publishing and displaying their works with lower costs:
"It is obvious that most of the time, artists and curators are under pressure to meet the needs and purposes of governments. This is why conservative galleries cannot support young artists in a global capitalist market. In today's art, governments and corporations are the main determinants, not artists. It seems that in the struggle between soft power strategies, economic policies, and the luxuries market, art is no longer able to present itself."
It seems that art book fairs are designed to provide artists with a reliable, independent space within the art community. Compared to artworks, books and other publications, such as magazines, posters, and tapes, are relatively less affected by the market's general concerns; printing a book is less challenging than selling an artwork, and it also needs a limited network of links. This may be the reason why artists are still particularly interested in art book fairs despite the drastic decrease, by governments and private sectors, in the budget for artistic publications. To confirm this issue, one can refer to this quotation from Yannick Bouillis:
"Offprint and other book fairs' success in art is because of the idea they present: standing for the art's outlook and against the thoughtless commercialization of art. A book is just a book."
Bon-gah Art Book Fair
Bon-gah is an example of an active art book fair in Iran that started in 2018 in Tehran. Bon-gah's first event was held on September 6, 2018, and was focused on the consolidation of links between non-profit institutions, curators, and foreign and domestic independent publishers. The second and the third edition of the Bon-gah Art Book Fair was held in the Autumn of 2019 and Winter of 2020 respectively. The fourth edition is arranged to be held between December 28 to 31, 2021.
Bon-gah hosts discussions, workshops, and exhibitions of works focused on artistic publishing and also tries to create a platform for publishers, artists, and book enthusiasts to interact. Bon-gah has also performed sessions in the presence of the founders and managers of more than ten art book fairs from around the world, such as Printed Matter. Moreover, Bon-gah has also designed and hosted an event called "Matbou-e- Bon-gah" since 2020. "Matbou" is the selected book (belonging to one or more young artists) of the fair which is printed by Bon-gah publishing Co. with the support of Parviz Tanavoli.
Attendants of Bon-gah art book fair, including artists, art publishers, galleries, designers, distributors of cultural products, graphics and printing studios, present works, such as books, magazines, artist books, photo-books, handprints, artworks with limited artist's editions, cultural products, research, and curatorial projects, to the visitors of this event.