Third Time’s a Charm

Christina Catherine Martinez at the 3rd LA Art Book Fair

Left: Artist Frances Stark and dealer Marc Foxx. Right: Artist Lisa Anne Auerbach. (All photos: Christina Catherine Martinez)

“I LOVE THE CROWD,” said Frances Stark ahead of her keynote address at the third iteration of the LA Art Book Fair. “It’s so LA.” Indeed, the endless comments from attendees and exhibitors praising the energy and the vibe the book fair brings to an already packed Los Angeles art weekend that includes the stalwart Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) and newcomer Paramount Ranch had at least something to do with the ranks of beautiful freaks descending on MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary. The temptation to devote the weekend to documenting their plumage persisted, but the half-images remain: ponytails of Skittle-hued hair faded to Klonopin whispers; a dot of oxblood lipstick on an errant tooth; a busted bra strap; a heartbreakingly placed zit.

This is the first year Printed Matter charged for entry to Thursday’s preview party, but walking up to the Geffen under a smoggy neon sunset and the honeyed beat of Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo,” it looked like the modest ten-dollar fee did little to quell the crowds. Any decrease in locals was more than made up for by glass-eyed out-of-towners and Snowpocalypse escapees come to kick our tires. I literally bumped into a New York editor who flicked on his iPhone recorder: “What does this fair mean to the community?”

A shit ton.

Left: Michael Rodriguez, Rudy Bleu, Manuel Paul, and Carlos Morales of the Maricón Collective. Right: Miranda July signs copies of The Thing The Book at The Thing Quarterly table.

“Who are your favorite exhibitors?”

Having just made a beeline to the Maricón Collective table, I sung their praises: A queer Chicano DJ crew started just last year “almost as a joke,” says founding member Rudy Bleu, Maricón Collective are known less for their old-school dance parties and afternoon brunches than for the imagery Manuel Paul creates to promote them—feathery graphite cholo erotica equally informed by the Art Laboe Connection, Teen Angels magazine, LA’s prison-industrial complex, and the log ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. This is real Los Angeles history—Source Family sycophancy is for tourists. Comparing notes on the week’s social imperatives, Joseph Mosconi of the Poetic Research Bureau agreed: “It’s like Art Basel now, but without the celebrities. But we have celebrities anyway, so who cares?”

Officially, there were about three hundred exhibitors from over twenty-one countries, but the open secret of opening night was all the last-minute table-scooching and booth-splitting going on in Zine World. My companion that evening showed up tableless with a stack of zines under one arm and left with an equally thick pile of self-published ephemera from peers and former strangers, with no dollars exchanged. On the larger main floor, the artist-run research repository Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA) used its table to hold “office hours” with rotating shifts of artists, writers, and curators displaying portions of their own archives, remaining present for intimate talk-throughs of the outré displays. LACA cofounder Eric Kim, who is also on the board of the nonprofit Chinatown space Human Resources, put it this way: “After last year we thought, ‘Well, everybody’s browsing but no one’s really buying, so why don’t we just do something that allows that?’ ”

Left: Sarah Williams and Kate Johnston of the Women's Center for Creative Work (WCCW). Right: KCHUNG station manager Chrysanthe Oltmann aka DJ Vulvasaur.

By Friday afternoon, a brief fit of rain trapped fairgoers inside the Geffen for several hours, hunched over their purchases as they dashed out during a break in the clouds. The book fair closed at seven, but the night wore on with more launches and openings, starting with a party at 356 S. Mission for Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Knotty, a book of innocuous knitting-magazine photos paired with oddly complementary shots culled from shibari and BDSM fetish rags—the sexiness of patient obsession buoyed by the handmade fact of the book itself: Auerbach personally made all one hundred copies. “I’m threatening to start a press!” she said. We capped the night at a fist-pumping after-after-after-party at the Atwater Village warehouse HQ of the Women’s Center for Creative Work, drunkenly shimmying under liquid lights to the beats of DJ Vulvasaur.

Saturday was the best day for programming, though the matryoshka-like schedule of talks, panels, and presentations meant something was invariably missed. Awkwardly taking place in the adjacent Aratani Central Hall of the Japanese American National Museum, some of the programs were clearly expected to outgrow the makeshift theaters formerly constructed inside the Geffen, but the space was so large the turnout felt sparse even when it was good. Scoli Acosta advised us to check out X-TRA’s 1 IMAGE 1 MINUTE presentation, based on Micol Hebron’s column inspired by Agnès Varda’s invitation for people to respond to a photographic image of their choice for one minute (results were broadcast on French television in 1983). We were asked to hold our applause until all fifty presenters had spoken. Many attempted to give an actual lecture in sixty seconds, but the best minitalks took on the mantle of performance, poetry, or confession. Suzanne Wright divulged her teen preference for air trumpet over air guitar: “Pretending to be her boyfriend playing trumpet made me feel sexy,” she said of Herb Alpert’s record cover for Whipped Cream and Other Delights. Marc Horowitz broke form entirely by taking the stage in Day-Glo orange coveralls (safety uniform? prison jumpsuit?), dumping a bag of fake autumn leaves and blowing them about with a leaf blower plugged in at the back of the hall. “Movie coming this fall,” he said just before his minute was up.

Left: Artist Meghan Gordon. Right: Artists Félicia Atkinson and Bartolomé Sanson of Shelter Press.

That evening, Stark presented “At the Rim of the Fucking Paradigm,” taken from the prospective title of a small press she once hoped to start. The talk was scheduled to take two hours, but Stark was not perturbed. “I always wing it. It’s just… this is emotional,” she said, patting the sheaf of notes in her lap. Reading from new and old texts, dispersed with commentary on the mundanities of being an artist and viewing LA through a car window, her talk was a characteristic collage of declarations (“I know I’m known for a certain insistence on the relevance of my personal reality”), provocations (“Being a teacher is like going into a room and giving head for an hour”), and frank inquiries (“What exactly is it that rubs between our efforts and our existences?”), sort of circling but not quite touching on what is so important about this zero-sum game of artists and making books. She read part of a text by artist Brad Phillips that he e-mailed her after it had been rejected by a Belgian publication called Confessions, choking up slightly at the words: “I am Daffy Duck. I cannot fill my holes. The best I can come up with is some sort of spiritual tampon.”

On my way out, a girl in a white sequined miniskirt played soprano sax on the sidewalk. The case for her instrument lay open at her feet, totally empty save for a neat row of zines for sale. A book fair of one, scoring the sound track to our packed schedules and bureaucratic slippages.

Left: Marc Horowitz performing at 1 Image 1 Minute. Right: Chiyo Uno of Guerrilla Girls.

Left: Triple Canopy editors Alexander Provan, Molly Kleiman, and Hannah Whitaker. Right: Poet Joseph Mosconi.

Left: Artists Scoli Acosta and Alison O'Daniel. Right: Eric Kim and Hailey Loman of Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA).