At New York Art Book Fair, a Tribute, a New Kitchen and a Topless Book Club

Gagosian honored Mike Kelley, M. Wells opened, Richard Prince welcomed half-naked ladies

  • Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair held its public opening last night at MoMA PS1 and the mood was just as buoyant as in past years. With no VIP hours or lounges and few ultra-big-ticket items, a feeling of pleasant equality tends to prevail—everyone is just an art fan hoping for an unusual find. It was also just as amazingly hot inside as in the past, but it was breezy outdoors, and the line for beer at the just-opened M. Wells Dinette moved quickly. The restaurant’s luscious smells wafted through the building. (Please, Herr Biesenbach, don’t install a filter.)

    This year’s fair, which runs through Sunday evening, has more than 200 exhibitors—a few dozen crammed into a tent next to the museum’s Performance Dome—that range from young outfits (NP, Ooga Booga) to heady European mags (Mousse, Kaleidoscope) to well-established secondary market book dealers (Harper’s) to the art industry’s heaviest hitters (Paula Cooper, Gagosian).

    Gagosian’s “Homage to Mike Kelley” was a faux library that occupied its own room in the basement. In the center was a large wooden case filled with books, music and knickknacks that had been selected by Kelley’s friends. (Among the participants were Kim Gordon, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Paul Schimmel, John Waters, and Kelley’s old Destroy All Monster bandmates Carey Loren and Jim Shaw.) Bookcases make for good biography—in the sense that you get a kind of rudimentary view of a person that feels complete despite leaving behind a great deal of mystery about the person’s life. This homage was, like Kelley himself, nothing if not eclectic. Here’s some of what was on the shelf, and you can make of it what you will: Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker, Penguin Classics edition of Paradise Lost, The Stooges’ Fun House CD, The Stooges’ Raw Power LP, Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, a biography of Fritz Lang, Mad Magazine, Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Humphrey the Humping Dog, a CD compilation of The Troggs, MC5’s Kick Out the Jams LP, more Mad Magazine, Sonic Youth’s Dirty LP, the collection Paul Thek: Artist’s Artist, a VHS tape of a Cecil Taylor concert in Germany from 1997, an anthology of Creem magazine, Action Comics No. 241 (“The Super Key to Fort Superman”) and more Mad Magazine.

    Elsewhere, at Karma Books, there was a selection of drug exploitation books—Taylor Mead’s On Amphetamine and in Europe and, of particular interest, Marijuana Girl by N.R. DeMexico (“She traded her body for drugs—and kicks!”). The Art Book Fair is a place where you could easily blow all your money over the span of 30 minutes and have it feel totally justified. Everyone seemed to be walking around trying not to look as much as they were looking, worried that they’d be able to make that couple hundred dollars for the first edition of Richard Serra’s first show catalogue a wise and necessary purchase. The museum was stuffy and hot, and the collected sweat of the guests contributed to the vibe that this was a casino filled with gambling addicts who were quickly running out of money.

    “Thumbs down to cash only!” an art world publicist was overheard saying. “I gotta get to an ATM.” (There’s one hiding in a hallway on the third floor.)

    Royal Books had a glass case that held a signed copy of Infinite Jest and an extremely rare book on the pre-war blues singer and guitar player Charley Patton by John Fahey. The bookseller said he had only seen three copies of it ever and that Fahey was “a little screwy.” Inside its covers, Fahey had printed handwritten lyrics for Patton’s songs (not an easy task) and written out the music as well (an even harder task).

    New York’s Primary Information imprint had their new Elad Lassry book, On Onions (with deadpan photographs of just that), on offer, and had received a box filled with their new Sarah Crowner book just two hours before the preview. That one is called Format, and features 86 pages that commingle her trademark abstractions with vintage dance and fashion images. (Disclosure: I bought a copy of Ms. Crowner’s book, and a new, second edition of Travess Smalley’s Capture Physical Presence, a collection of neon, ragtag digital abstractions, at NP.)

    On the first floor, in an area where the fine smells from M. Wells’s kitchen proved particularly pungent, New York’s Project Projects was offering a poster that Judith Barry made for this past Documenta, and Paper Monument was selling editions, including an iPad-only work by Antoine Catala. Only a few feet away, at Gottlund Verlag, of Kutztown, Pa., Sam Falls (in town from Los Angeles), was assembling a sculpture, part of which was designed to fade in sunlight. It was part of an edition that also includes an accordion of paper, each panel of which is printed with progressively less ink.

    Paul Chan had a table where copies of On Democracy by Saddam Hussein (“Artwork by Paul Chan”) were for sale.

    Richard Prince’s Fulton Ryder was peddling, in the words of one of the young women working the counter, “cheesy porno” like Odd Odd Odd Orgy by “19-year-old Lee Carson” and Fred Haley’s Satan Was a Lesbian, along with some of Mr. Prince’s own artist books.

    Three more young women sat next to the Ryder booth reading pulp-fiction books. They were all topless. Alice—we agreed just a first name would be fine—had red hair with a long streak of purple, and was reading a book called Sweet Cherries. She explained that she and her friends (Nero and Fina, they said) were part of a group called the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. They’ve been around for about two years, and have been written about in the Village Voice.

    “We have sort of a fan following, which is insane because it’s really just—it’s really not that big a deal,” another offered. Fair goers seemed to confirm that—everyone was so fixated on the display cases that few seemed to notice them. However, Richard Prince is a fan and asked them to come by and do their thing.

    Later in the night, a friend was showing off her wares—in particular a Melvins LP. Printed on the sleeve was a fake obituary by Adam McEwen for Mr. Prince—“died aged 57, was the most influential artist of his generation and a restless connoisseur of the underbelly of the American Dream.”