LAST THURSDAY, at the opening night preview of Printed Matter’s NY Book Fair at MoMA PS1, in the popup white dome in the courtyard, at one of the end-to-end merchandise tables, V. Vale (“That’s the name I’m famous under”), founder of RE/Search, complains to a fan that the fair, in its eleventh year, and its host city, have lost their street cred:
“I never come to New York. Yeah, I never come to New York. I never come to New York,” says Vale, beaming defiantly.
“Well, New York may have jumped the shark.”
“I don’t know what that means. Jump the shark.”
“It means that something has hit its peak, and then it starts to go into its decline. I hope I’m wrong, but Larry Gagosian is here.”
“There used to be an underground!”
Eh. In New York, there are some things you can’t have unless you know a guy.
The guy who hacked my neighbor’s wifi so I don’t have to arrange my life so as to afford even low-speed internet, is also into art-book forgery—which is why I have a bootleg of the uncorrected proof of Richard Prince’s War Pictures from his February 1980 show at Artists Space in “my library.” (“All forgeries are either a facsimile or a bootleg,” he says. “Fans make bootlegs for other fans.”) A signed copy from the original edition of “about” one hundred can be bought for $8,500 at Harper’s in East Hampton.
About as far away as I could chuck a hotel bible, my guy asks his guy (both New York natives, as it were): “Do you have the thing from the other night?”
From under the table (literally) materializes two copies from “a small run” of bootlegs of Francesca Woodman’s Some Disordered Interior Geometries (1981).
Twelve double-sided pages of an Italian geometry textbook, on which Woodman pasted her dusky black-and-white self-portraits, this thin pamphlet is all the precocious photographer published during her lifetime. (The genre of first photography book is especially depressing; Peter Hujar’s Portraits in Life and Death comes to mind.)
Within weeks of its publication, some even say days, at twenty-two, Woodman jumped to her death from a window downtown. Many of the edition of five hundred were distributed as mementos at her funeral. Amazon is selling the originals for $19,995.00 and $18,350.00. Printed Matter is selling an original for $12,000. (“A bargain,” says my guy.)
“It’s not exactly the original,” says his guy. “It has a dot pattern the original does not have.” The bootlegs are $35.
Three hours prior to my owning Geometries—the rumor of whose existence propelled me to the fair in the first place—my guy, who is forty, is placidly surveying the line snaking down the block outside the museum, waiting to browse the “artists books, monographs, periodicals, and zines” from “370 international presses, booksellers, antiquarians, artists, and independent publishers from 35 countries.” (I’m told that forty thousand art-book squibs passed through the fair this weekend.) I’m avoiding eye contact with a Danish poet—formerly of my personal life, also forty—as we walk to the back of the line, remembering Carrie Bradshaw’s advice on how to glide unperturbed from curb to club: “Twenty-something guys always know the really important ‘B’ people. Busboys, bouncers.” Sigh.
Kim Gordon—a really important “A” person who does not know the “B” people here either, and in fact can give the impression that leather jackets are all-season—beelines for my guy, who she knows, and budges in line.
Gordon was there to sign her new book, Noise Name: Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands That Are Broken Up. What’s not to love about Kim getting the last word… again. Fans chose to inscribe their own bodies in homage, at the Gagosian art exhibition (one of eleven site-specific installations), where Gordon and other artists had created “flash art” to be inked on site. (“Tattoos will be hand-numbered on the bodies of purchasers, and once six people have a tattoo, the design will be retired forever.”)
She’s carrying a sandwich. “I wanted to give it to a homeless person.” Inside, she offers it to KARMA’s Brendan Dugan—who I’ve always suspected to have impeccable karma, which doesn’t make him any less interesting. (He rates it as worse than a B+.) I ask him if he’s selling anything secret. “It’s a book fair! It’s democratic. We encourage browsing.” Dugan promises me a not-for-sale KARMA sign. For free. (The arrow points down, but I’ve been trying not to read too much into signs.)
So we browse.
At KARMA, I flip through EASTERNSPORTS, the quippy collaboration between artists Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson: “From Proust to Serge Gainsbourg… the French! They’re all trouble.” (Their friend Borna Sammak, a swarthy, charmingly disagreeable artist, was recently seen wearing the T-shirt: THE FRENCH SUCK YOU PISS U.S. OFF.) At Harper’s, Nelson Harst produces (from the glass case, per request) a particularly amusing portrait of an All-American abroad: Private Elvis, with photographs of the young soldier in Germany, drinking with locals. By the end of the book, Presley is wasted, face flattened out like a Denny’s pancake. He makes out with at least four barflies. (“Now this is a good signature”: Diego Cortez inscribes it to Basquiat in Dec ’84.) I think of Dorothy Iannone’s calling cards—for sale elsewhere at the fair—translated from the German: “I think you’re insane, you pisshead.”
My guy buys a zine about Danish people visiting Graceland: Graceland to Graceland, Part I and Part II. (Apparently, Denmark’s aesthetics naturally align with Elvis’s.) I text the Danish artist Jesper Just an excerpt:
Well, I wouldn’t say I am American because after all I am Danish, but I love America! I love America, I love a lot of what it stands for… The fairytale, the tourism, the customer care.”
He’s not buying: “Who the hell…”
How rare under late capitalism to find oneself shopping in a space that has not been engineered to trick you into buying things, elbow-to-elbow with a probable concentration of New Yorkers who have heard of, if not read, R.E. Milliman’s study, “Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers.” (Sales were said to increase 38.2 percent.)
Sonic branding strategies were not being employed, except a din of voices, but the Youth, the culture vultures, were happy to window shop. The painter Sam McKinniss, of the fair on Saturday: “There were very hot guys at around 1:30 but they all disappeared by 3:30 and it was actually disorienting.”