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Calling all (digital) bookworms: virtual art book fair gives publishers a lifeline during the pandemic

Printed Matter's online venture offers new, rare and out of print publications alongside panels, trailers and prints

A selection of David Zwirner Books publications available to buy at the fair Courtesy of PMVABF

Prompting by the global pandemic, galleries and art fairs have migrated online in the past year to provide new commercial and curatorial digital platforms to view and sell art. Now art books are getting their place in the virtual sun with the launch of Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair (25-28 February), an online event comprising more than 400 exhibitors from more than 40 countries. Printed Matter, a New York-based non-profit founded in 1976, pledges to bring “artwork in book form to the broadest public possible”.

Each exhibitor presents a dedicated website featuring artists’ books for purchase, book trailers, artist-made videos, panels and talks, as well as the chance to interact with exhibitors. The site can be navigated via eight categories including “rare and out of print” and “photo books”; participants can also be found according to geographical location (12 exhibitors are listed under Germany; the United States is split into states with 57 participants from California).

“We had to cancel [our] LA Art Book Fair 2020 about a month before the fair was meant to start in early April 2020 and quickly started producing this event that just opened on 24 February,” says Sonel Breslav, director of fairs and editions at Printer Matter, Inc. “We love our IRL fairs and we miss seeing this community and our visitors together in one place; at the same time this fair is more accessible and international than it's ever been in the past. We are excited about the future that we hope will be a combination of both.”

Pace Publishing, the books arm of the eponymous New York gallery, presents 18 titles on the platform including vintage items such as Jean Dubuffet: Recent Paintings (1975; $50.00), Kiki Smith: New Work (1995; $80.00), and Lucas Samaras: Kiss Kill/Perverted Geometry/Inedibles (1996; $50.00).

Kenny Scharf (Lingua Amarrada, 2020) is selling at Almine Rech Editions for €1000 Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech

Almine Rech Editions of Brussels is selling a print by Kenny Scharf (Lingua Amarrada, 2020; €1,000), apparel collections designed by Genieve Figgis and Wes Lang (€100 for a t-shirt; edition of 500) and a new catalogue dedicated to the Florida-born artist Vaughn Spann (€30.00). “We’ve seen the critical role digital platforms have played in sustaining activities across the industry during the pandemic period, and Printed Matter’s virtual edition definitely holds its own within this bigger story,” says Almine Rech.

Publication Studio Vancouver is offering Dan Graham: Drawings 1965-69, a selection of the US artist’s early grid drawings and typewriter pieces ($20.00). “We are happy to be part of the fair! Having participated in one virtual fair already (Vancouver Art Book Fair in October 2020), we have lowered our expectations regarding sales. In the case of the earlier fair, we sold probably about 40% less than we would have in a normal year, and based on what has happened so far at PMVABF, we anticipate something similar by the time the fair closes,” says Kay Higgins of Publication Studio Vancouver.

“At a typical fair there is a lot of exchange going on between publishers, and that doesn't happen in the virtual format since I can't just stroll over to someone's table with a copy of a new title and offer to trade it for something,” she adds. Higgins is however able to attend more of the fair’s talks and events. “And I will probably order some books from other vendors on Sunday after I have had a good look around.”