The New York Art Book Fair Was Full of Essential and Worthless Stuff
See if you can tell which objects are exciting and important and which are lazy and garbage.
All photos by Nick Gazin
I've covered Printed Matter's New York Art Book Fair every year since 2012, and each year it's grown and changed—except for this year, when it didn't. This year's NYABF was almost exactly like last year's. Once again the major theme was bootleg T-shirts and a museum so hot and unventilated it was like a sauna for books.
I took a lot of photos, and it's my hope to recreate my experience, for you, the VICE reader. As you look at my photos, see if you can tell which objects are exciting and important and which are lazy and garbage.
Upon breaching MoMA PS1's large concrete walls, you find yourself in a courtyard presented with several options. You can enter the giant geodesic igloo to the left, the zine ghetto to the right, or walk straight ahead into the museum's main building.
I elected to enter the igloo.
The first thing I saw was the Nieves booth. Their logo is Grimace reading a book, which adorns many tote bags.
This is Gabe Fowler who owns Desert Island Comics, a great comics store off the Lorimer L Stop in Brooklyn.
Outside the igloo, I ran into artist/illustrator (and frequent VICE contributor) Heather Benjamin. Her work deals with the beauty in the grossness and the grossness in the beauty of being a lady, and it looks like no other artist's work.
I asked to photograph performance artist and photographer Bad Brilliance with his girlfriend, and he responded by saying, "This is for VICE, so we should make out, right?" I said no, but they did anyway.
This is painter/sculptor/filmmaker Chloe Wise with her friend Ethan. Chloe is a dynamo.
Upon entering the tented area where the zinesters were stationed, I ran into Nasty Nigel, the rapper from World's Fair and Children of the Night.
Here is the insanely pretty publisher of Breakdown Press holding up Anna Haifisch's new book, The Artist, which collects the comic series of the same name that appears on this site. Breakdown Press keeps its output low and its quality high.
Crooked Fagazine applies 90s punk-zine aesthetic to a modern queer-interest zine.
As usual, Massive had a presence, selling wares relating to Japanese bear culture.
Scott Hug made an art book with a glory hole in the cover. I thought this was pretty funny. He said that people ask what the hole's for, but he feels like it shouldn't be explained.
This guy was selling art he'd made that sexualized Snow White. I didn't think it was great art, but it was good pornography.
Someone is binding together old issues of comic books that are intended to be like comic-book mixtapes.
Here is Killer Acid at his table of colorful junk that he's made. Despite relying heavily on references to pop culture and drugs, Killer Acid's work is distinctly his own because of his unique psychedelic drawing style. He can draw Alf in a way that no other human would ever draw Alf.
This is famed ghostwriter Ratso. He wrote Howard Stern's books, Anthony Kiedis's book, and was the executive editor of the National Lampoon in the 1980s.
A guy who works for MTV News had made this and several other digital collage prints. This one spoke to me. The need for constant content has lowered the bar for all of culture. Instagram has given every person with a smartphone the opportunity to be an artist, but when you don't think about it as art and you grade the success of what you make with how many times someone clicks "like" on something, it encourages you to make bland, obvious shit that will appeal to the lowest common denominator. Craft has gone by the wayside, but so has intention.
I was transfixed by this tote bag that Alicia Nauta made. Colors, shapes, textures, and no references. Just pure beauty and something that's indescribable with words. If you can describe visual art easily with language, then it's usually not very good.
These were bootleg video game pins that could be used as official merchandise and sold in a video game store.
Behind the zine tent is a secret alley where you can piss and do drugs.
When I exited the zine tent, it had become dark, and I noticed people lazing on funky beanbag chairs.
Andy Folk forewent paying for a table in the zine tent and instead sold punk zines and political-protest posters in a corner. At most book fairs, a person would get tossed out for this. I think it's pretty cool at NYABF allows it to happen. Here he is holding up a copy of Kamikaza: Satan Panonski Fanzine.
Inside PS1, I came across the Vasta table that I had written up enthusiastically last year. I was very flattered to see my words displayed along with their beautiful, old, dirty magazines.
I bought these incredible bondage zines from the late 60s.
This bondage catalog from 1968 has enough great images to produce about 50 punk album covers and shirts.
I thought this was beautiful. What happened to the people who designed these magazines? How do we get back to this aesthetic? Is it gone forever?
On the walk home over the Pulaski Bridge, my editor James Yeh and I discussed whether New York is still worth living in.
When I returned on Sunday, I saw this amazing duo of Lestat goths standing outside. I thought that when goth became too ubiquitous and normal, real goths would gravitate toward wearing navy blue. But it's gone a different way.
This guy reminded me of the Corinthian from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. Is blond hair and light colors the new direction for goth?
I returned to the igloo to look at more things. This booth sold bootleg Throbbing Gristle shirts, although the seller assured me Genesis P-Orridge is cool with it. (Update 9/23/16: The person who owned this booth wants us to mention that he was, in fact, making these shirts without Genesis P-Orridge's permission or involvement.)
More bootleg shirts. Why does an art book fair feel like the parking lot outside a giant arena rock show?
More of the same.
I was very excited to see this.
This man and these books were the most real, important, and valuable thing at the NY Art Book Fair. The man is V. Vale, creator of RE/Search. I didn't expect to meet him.
While other people at neighboring booths were making bootleg merchandise that ripped off cultures they weren't a part of, Vale created and steered culture with these books. The Industrial Handbook, the book he's holding, informed and helped give birth to whatever industrial turned into. Modern Primitives helped spawn the modern body piercing and giant full body tattoo culture. The RE/Search book of Pranks (titled Pranks!) is just one of the best books ever made and will give any oddball or misanthropic recluse hope.
When I asked VICE on HBO and VICELAND's Thomas Morton to describe the RE/Search books, he said they were "as essential as the Encyclopedia Britannica or Wikipedia to people of an oddball type. Finding those books was like going to Rocky Horror for the first time and seeing a portal to much cooler universe than the one you were born into."
As a person, V. Vale was enthusiastic and talkative, acting more like a fan than some snob authority. Let this be a lesson to young misanthropes. Terry Gilliam, Genesis P-Orridge, David Lynch, and V. Vale are all really nice, friendly people. Be nice. The gods of being a depressed weirdo are incredibly generous. Create culture and be friendly, don't just rip it off and be sullen.
I liked this duo. They said that their matching style was unplanned.
In PS1, you could look over a balcony into the basement where David Zwirner had installed a studio for a couple of their artists. I thought it was OK.
These porno novels were not cheap. Most of the fun comes from reading the titles anyway.
Sighhhh... "The Rock 'n' Roll Vegetable" interview with Lou Reed in this first issue of Punk is one of the most perfect things ever put on paper.
I poked my head into this gold-plated boiler room. How do you try to focus on anything but how cool the room looks?
These guys had some disposable platitudes that looked and sounded boring over their heads. Don't take art advice from people who think this is good presentation.
Here is something that is not-trivial or pointless. Ooga Booga is from LA, and as you can see, they are displaying a shit-ton of zines. Plus, the lady on the right is wearing a very old Jerry's Kids shirt, which gains her 35 punk points in my book.
I poked my head into this room to find that some people were selling "the first limited-edition tattoos." Six celebrity-designed pieces of tattoo flash were being tattooed a mere six times. Each tattoo had a number incorporated into it. I asked what was to stop me from going home and giving myself one and including the number seven beneath it. I was told that I could do that but that I could also print images off of the internet and claim them to be originals. I think the point he was trying to make was that it's all bullshit.
One room was full of English punk posters from the 70s. If the Sex Pistols gave us nothing else, they gave us this phrase: "A cheap holiday in other people's misery." I think about it often.
I thought C & B Publications had a pleasant little table. If you have the Tadanori Yokoo book with the slipcase that's covered in mouths, please email me.
In a surprisingly un-controversial move, Artforum changed its name and focus.
This guy from Hat and Beard Press had some Slash Magazine-related publications, a Belladonna of Sadness book, and a David Lynch book. Quality stuff.
I managed to escape, and as I left, I came across Matthew Marks Gallery's warehouse sale. This is where the unloved art books go when they die.
All in all, the NYABF was swollen, sweaty, and loud this year. There were some great things, but all the good things could have fit into the museum's courtyard. The presence of the major galleries and publishers is unnecessary.
This past weekend also happened during the Small Press Expo in Maryland and at least one or two other book fairs in New York. There's too many book fairs and not enough good books. What the hell is that about? People can't space out their zine and book events?
If the NYABF keeps going, they need to have better air-conditioning, and should scale back who is allowed to get a table. Comic Arts Brooklyn is a great festival because it's curated. The zine fest at Silent Barn, Paper Jam, doesn't let the same people get a table twice.
Here's my NYABF haul photo. The recent Pettibon book, a French Gary Panter book, six bondage zines, The Industrial Handbook, some Heather Benjamin stuff, some stickers and buttons.