Why Collect Artist Books and Zines?
by Joe Bucciero
Posted by Joe Bucciero
| tags: zines artist books BABZ printed matter barnard zine library collector's catalogue zine collecting art collectors blonde art books Sonel Breslav Jenna Freedman
“Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.” —Walter Benjamin 
Brooklyn-based publisher and curator Blonde Art Books recently organized its third annual Bushwick Art Book and Zine Fair (BABZ). A three-day event, BABZ featured a few dozen independent publishers hawking their goods, plus workshops and performances throughout the weekend. The presence of something like BABZ is not particularly surprising; a market for Do-It-Yourself printed matter still exists, whether at fairs like BABZ, stores like Printed Matter, or even in university library collections (such as Barnard’s or NYU’s). What drives collectors to keep these venues running? What, or who, fuels the market?
BABZ Fair 2015. Courtesy of Blonde Art Books
Blonde Art Books founder Sonel Breslav positions the practice of art book and zine collection near to—but separate from—art collecting at large. In a post-fair interview, she noted the distinctions between the two collecting practices as chiefly to do with accessibility. “Having something [a buyer] can walk away with quite easily,” she added, referring to the size and cost of the objects on offer at BABZ, “opens up the space for what it means to be a collector, or to be able to connect to art in a different way.” In other words, a collector could have easily left BABZ with a tasteful haul, having spent just ten or twenty dollars.
But do low prices and replicable goods enable a new class of art collectors? Or is art book collecting a “lower” pursuit than art collecting precisely because of the cheaper, hand-made objects involved? Printed Matter attempts to squash any such hierarchy. Co-founder Lucy Lippard explained in a 2006 interview with Julie Ault: “Printed Matter was triggered by Sol [LeWitt]’s involvement in making artists’ books which got no respect; dealers used them as freebies—bait to draw in collectors to buy the big stuff. We both took them more seriously and wanted them to become a real option for artists.” For Lippard, artist’s books (and art books and zines, for our purposes) are a collectable medium in their own right; they do not sit on a lower rung on some artistic ladder.
Breslav likewise conceives of no such ladder. For her and Blonde Art Books, the boundaries between art book and “art” (or “book”) are fluid. As with many collectors, her bookshelves do not differentiate between mediums: art books, zines, histories, and theoretical texts sit side by side. Each object can serve as inspiration for an aspect of her overarching artistic practice—and each object possesses, as it would to any collector, some type of personal value. “They often bring me back to a place in which I maybe met the artist or a bookshop where I had an extraordinary experience,” she says. Her invocations of memory, inspiration, and social encounters illustrate moreover the ultimate appeal of this type of collecting: creating and collaborating.
Barnard Zine Library collection. Courtesy of Barnard Zine Library. Photo: Karen Green
In the communities in which these objects thrive, there is always an imperative to make as well as collect. One of Breslav’s favorite aspects of BABZ is the “shared community that shares ideas and shares resources as well.” The small, open atmosphere at the fair encourages socializing and collaborating between publishers and publishers, and publishers and visitors, in a way unseen at larger art fairs. In an otherwise hyper-competitive New York art world, zine communities offer an alternative—however utopian—in which the roles of artist, dealer, and patron are happily interchangeable.
Small Editions’ book-binding workshop with Corina Reynolds at BABZ Fair 2015. Courtesy of Blonde Art Books
At BABZ, for instance, Corina Reynolds of Small Editions hosted a book-binding workshop in which all the attendees were given materials with which to assemble a zine about how to make zines. Traditional galleristic distinctions between seller and buyer, artist and patron, began to collapse. That zine-makers want you to make zines alongside them courses, further, through the medium’s roots. In an interview, Barnard zine librarian Jenna Freedman commented on the format’s independence, as well as its promotion of mutual admiration, and inspiration. Zines are self-published because of “the zine's content, the author's ability to maintain creative control, or control of distribution,” she said. As a result, advertisements—as would exist in traditional art magazines—are scarce; when they do show up, they emphasize communal support: “You advertise my zine, and I'll advertise yours,” Freedman added.
Barnard Zine Library collection. Courtesy of Barnard Zine Library. Photo: Karen Green
Whereas Walter Benjamin says that writers write “because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like,” zine-makers like Freedman or the people at Small Editions often create because the “market” is in their view rich—not in cash flow, of course, but in ideas. “Young zine makers are writing for each other,” Freedman said, “and in a different way than if they were writing a journal or scrapbook, prior vehicles for self-documentation.” A zine collector measures exchange value by message and creativity. Breslav noted that for BABZ-goers, “it’s important for there to be a sense that their voice can be heard—which is again, quite different from a lot of fair circumstances.”
Art book and zine collecting offers buyers fiscal, creative, and emotional agency in a way collecting painting and sculpture largely does not. In “Unpacking My Library,” Benjamin discusses the practice’s “childlike element.” For adult collectors, acquiring whatever type of “beautiful object” represents a rebirth, he writes. But “among children, collecting is only one process of renewal; other processes are the painting of objects, the cutting out of figures, the application of decals—the whole range of childlike modes of acquisition, from touching things to giving them names.” Breslav and Freedman pointed to collecting’s activation of memory and experience; in the case of art book and zine collecting (like Benjamin’s book collecting), this activation spurs a call not to the viewer’s accountant but to their creative impulse—to the proverbial, and literal, drawing board.
 Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 67.
 Note: for this article I am grouping together zines, independent art books, and artist’s books, as they are all independently-published publications with—in general—similar markets. Lucy Lippard more strictly delineates the mediums. “My own definition of an artist’s book was quite strict,” she said: “mass produced, relatively cheap, accessible to a broad public, all art and no commentary or preface or anything that wasn’t part of the artwork by anyone… Hand-made, one-of-a-kind books were something else—often very beautiful, but the kind of ‘precious objects’ I hoped [Printed Matter would] escape.” Although some BABZ tables sold “precious objects,” I think their and Lippard’s goals are often still compatible.
 Trading is a big part of zine culture too; amassing a great zine collection often necessitates frequent creating and socializing.
 Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” 61.
 In its early days at least, Printed Matter served a similar purpose in Lippard’s view: “We were the only place artist’s bookmakers could go and we always got flack when anything was rejected from the store… Printed Matter was an incredible support system for artists (despite its insolvency and various organizational problems).”
 Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” 61.
(Image the top: Nikholis Planck, BABZ Fair 2015 Flyer, courtesy of Blonde Art Books)
Jonathan LeVine Gallery - 529 W. 20th
529 W. 20th Street, 9E, New York, NY 10011
June 25, 2015 - July 25, 2015
Evol Brings East Berlin to Chelsea, with Talk of Gentrification
by Stephanie Berzon
Posted by Stephanie Berzon
| tags: graffiti/street-art mixed-media painting gentrification East Berlin chelsea trompe l'oeil architecture evol
Gentrification is the big bad wolf in the modern day urban party. Never formally invited, it heard of the gathering by word of mouth and will restlessly attempt to enter even if it has to blow the entire structure down. No one likes it—neither the apologetic gentrifier nor the displaced community who lack enough financial clout or power to resist or keep up with the shift. It barrels forward as if it has no memory of itself, all history lessons completely erased. After it passes, the area has a new face: cultural and physical landscapes are transformed, a coat of fresh paint is at once attractive and hollowing.
In his show Unreal Estate at Jonathan LeVine artist Evol brings a familiar conversation back to New York’s Chelsea art district, a place where art itself played a role in transforming a neighborhood and changing the real estate market.
Freudenberg (left). All images: Frankie Galland
Altering streets is nothing new to Berlin-based Evol. His trompe-l'oeil paintings of residential buildings in East Berlin are deceivingly realistic and commonly found on surfaces common to the streets: on cardboard boxes to be framed and placed inside of an art institution, or on outdoor electrical boxes and cement slabs that remain in their native environments. The tenements he recreates in miniature are usually depicted in daylight and in a state of vacancy—as if they house a working class who use the space for little more than sleep. There is a continual awareness of the ordinary, established city block. Tears and holes on the façade of his painted buildings are cleverly matched the defects that his cardboard canvases already had; tears, folds, tape residue, and packing labels become features in his painted buildings, the imperfections suggesting the neighborhood’s history and battles.
These architectural scars (in the artwork and in real life) may be charming to a visitor, but to Evol they “symbolize the possibility of a certain freedom.” In less affluent neighborhoods, there is more room to self-govern, to try and start a business or to openly struggle. With the rise of luxury condos comes a shift for the responsibility of culture—the ability to create culture versus consume it—and this exchange is mirrored in the architecture.
In the front of the gallery there is a broken window painted on a cardboard box. Through the holes of another painting we can see construction undertaken inside a building’s gutted shell. In Who's afraid of Yellow, Orange and Blue?, a long, warehouse-like structure is covered in graffiti; the sun casts a shadow of scaffolding on a residential building in Shadows of Things to Come. Moving towards the back of the gallery, the work becomes more surreal and also more like an installation.
A funhouse mirror hangs opposite the show’s only sculpture, which is a typical Evol city building spray-painted on a cardboard box, leaning against the wall. However a sticker on it reveals a New York City address. All reflections in the mirror are warped: the building along with the gallery hopper viewing the artwork along with the leisurely white walls of the gallery. Everything is caught in the eye of gentrification, participating in its rituals, brought together by this moment of awareness in the artwork’s contorted reflection.
(All photos: Frankie Galland)
Jerry Saltz: The Conscience of the Critic
by Joel Kuennen
Posted by Joel Kuennen
| tags: ArtSlant Editions Facebook art critics Jerry Saltz Conscience vulture Progressivism Hegel new nullity Social Media Art Criticism
What does the conscience of a profession look like? Physicians and futurists have ethics councils. This or that Board or Agency marks the boundaries of most fields and enterprises to better direct cooperative human energy in mutually agreed upon trajectories. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but overall, it’s a system that has worked well for the past century. Arts writers don’t have a sanctioned conscience as such. Instead, we have a much more free-market approach, a loose band of semi-trained critics lashing out in unconstrained diatribes from their computer stools and standing desks.
Overall, arts criticism is usually a home for the forefront of progressive politics (except when it’s not: ex. 1, ex. 2) and an exercise in encouraging artists’ engagement with redefining humanity through cultural progression. Most can agree that one of the main purposes of contemporary art is to push, prod, and critique people into being better, even if it means belaboring points.
An arts writer’s conscience then lies somewhere within the term “progressive.” Progressivism, a wholly Western concept, was the concern of Kant, Hegel, and Marx and was conceptualized as a rejection of cyclical time (colloquially, history repeating itself, and a notion that is deeply tied to Judeo-Christian’s conception of time). To reject the notion that time is cyclical and therefore the notion that the human will is hemmed in, an end point was needed. For Kant, the terminus was the abolition of war through education. Hegel was a bit more of a pessimist, arguing that conflict was absolutely necessary for progress to be a condition. The endpoint for Hegel was self-realization and the development of a rational system of nation states that would then mark the end of history. Marx also argued that the culmination of human history lay in the development of rational systems but that they would be based on humanity realizing cooperative self-interest. Sometimes we forget that “modernity,” the condition of the Western world 50 years ago, was seen as the end point of progressivism. Yet, here we are, beyond the end of history, in postmodernity, still fiddling away, fine-tuning and evangelizing progress to the far-flung corners of the globe. It could be argued that the new modernity will be one in which we are all freed from our bodily strictures, ascend into a realm of pure surface and become the Geist that Hegel hoped for. Rational systems and societies of surface make me wince dystopic. Darkened visions of pod people and VR happy days. But, still, it's enticing.
The end of history, however, is unlikely and what we are left with is cyclical progression. Even with modernity spread to every corner of the Earth, outer space remains. Progress! Forever!—it’s the perfect motto.
In the meantime, we’ve got our short lives to live and a lot of time to devote to the minutiae. So let’s get dirty.
This sentiment seems to be the bellowing call of art criticism’s most well-known enfant terrible, Jerry Saltz. Saltz came of age at a time of obnoxious moralism and social conservatism. A simpler time when being nude was revolutionary. Now, when most people have to worry about an errant nude selfie floating around the internet, no one ought to care if you’re naked anymore, let alone in the arts where shock value and market value are virtually synonymous. But back in March, Saltz got the boot from Facebook for posting medieval art that featured the naked form. Turns out, artists that followed him were taken aback by the imagery (and probably his “idiotic jokes”) and reported him to Facebook. Saltz lamented that this incident finally broke his naive fascination with Facebook:
On Facebook, the boundaries between high and low seemed finally to slip away. Doing criticism in public, in real time, live, was thrilling, satisfied my need to try new things, reach a much, much wider audience, be a ham, alleviate the long terrible hours of aloneness that all writers and artists know well, all the while exercising my own demons and dancing naked in public.
He goes on:
This from people who subscribe, navigate to, seek out, and read my Facebook page voluntarily, people who then use their energy to criticize how I’m trying to use mine. This seems perverse to me.
And anyway, I love that the art world is always getting its panties in a wad about the collapse of cultural values and the like. I didn't mind being "the like."
For me this is illustrative of a severe break that is extremely encouraging. The high and low is finally slipping away and people are allowed redress against what public personas and organizations express. Saltz bearing criticism is the internet in action. When phrases like "panties in a wad" are used, you will be called out for your mansplaining bullshit. Dancing "naked in public" is encouraged but be ready for the response because we live in a polyethical society. This polyethical society will eventually converge but it doesn't happen overnight, not even in small, specialized groups like the one that follows Saltz on Facebook.
Progress towards and out of modernity has led us to a point where traditional power structures are continuously questioned, dismantled, and reassembled in new formations. These are the effects of progress that will continuously cycle, bringing progress to bear on the now.
Saltz is conflicted, at once wanting to protect his position of power—let me post what I want!—and celebrating the freedom of playing the devil on the shoulder.
There's a fantastic conversation between Vulture editor David Wallace-Wells and Jerry Saltz on the release of Kim Kardashian-West's book Selfish. In it, they go through the general derision that came to define Kardashian-West's image within popular culture: a kind of begrudging acceptance and in that acceptance, a kind of rapturous thrall. The interview takes on a meta-tone for those familiar with Saltz; as they break down the popularity of Kardashian-West they are also breaking down the popularity of Saltz. It might be best summed up by the following quote from Saltz:
We have so many people using their energy now to attack how other people use their energy. This is the new nullity.
I'm not sure what the old nullity was, but again, this process of social critique practiced by the masses is not nothing. It is everything! It is our future, it is progress in motion! We do not cancel each other out, we make each other better. We are our own conscience.
(Image at top: One of the offending medieval images that got Jerry Saltz kicked off Facebook)
55-59 Chrystie Street, Suite 203, New York, NY 10002
July 12, 2015 - August 9, 2015
We Contain Multitudes: the Hybrid Identities of Andrea Crespo
by Joe Bucciero
Posted by Joe Bucciero
| tags: digital sculpture video games hybridity existenz andrea crespo art and technology identity
Within the first few minutes of David Cronenberg’s 1999 movie eXistenZ, video game designer Allegra Geller is referred to as both “goddess” and “demoness.” The polarizing reaction to Geller’s games sets the stakes for the ensuing narrative—one in which “realists” fight against gamers, who, according to the realists, “deform” reality. Indeed, in immersive games like eXistenZ, players are never sure if they are themselves or their characters. Buried under several layers of “reality,” everyone in the film ends up with a multitude of identities; Allegra is goddess and demoness at once.
Although the muted, sterile objects in Andrea Crespo’s polymorphoses do not resemble the veiny, grotesque game pods in eXistenZ, Crespo asks Cronenberg-ian questions: must we establish a single identity when it is so easy, because of video game and internet avatars, to assume multiple? How can we feel secure, if at all, while navigating alternate “realities”? In polymorphoses, as in eXistenZ, beings and their projections are constantly splitting and re-joining, doubling and reducing, disappearing and reappearing. Are such dimensional shifts necessarily negative, or can a confusion of identities open up new (inter)personal possibilities?
Installation view of polymorphoses, 2015. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York
Crespo addresses these themes most saliently in parabiosis: neurolibinal induction complex, the exhibition’s sole video piece. Evocative words and Game Boy images appear on a black screen. A glowing bar wipes them away, or perhaps copies them, acting as a Xerox machine. The devices we use—scanners, Game Boys, and their contemporary counterparts—play both goddess (creator) and demoness (destroyer) every day. Throughout polymorphoses, then, Crespo navigates the boundaries between these two roles in a post-eXistenZ, post-internet, cultural climate: one a bit more comfortable with hybridity.
parabiosis 2.2 excerpt from Andrea Crespo.
In plurisim (incubator), one of five “data security boxes” hanging on Hester’s back wall, Crespo interrogates our digital relationships. Nintendo Game Link cables connect on one end (not unlike the umbilical cord cables and bio-ports in eXistenZ), their other ends growing outwards. In conventional use, the cables allow Game Boy players to “interact” across platforms. Even though the cables are secured within a box, they suggest a possible union between human avatars. Is this—multiplayer gaming—a “real” connection? In eXistenZ, the answer is no; no relationship is firm, or even physically safe. In polymorphoses, however, even with glimpses of techno-exclusivity (i.e., objects locked in data security boxes), it seems as though Crespo wants to unlock some sort of personal “reality” and potential for “real” connectivity.
(left) plurisim (incubator), 2015, Data security box, UV print on acrylic glass, poly mesh, Nintendo Game Link Cables, sprites by rockiecuff.deviantart.com
(right) somatospasm (disinterface), 2015, Data security box, inkjet print on paper, UV print on acrylic glass
Photos: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York.
The printed surface of another box, somatospasm (disinterface), affirms Crespo’s grasp for the personal—anthropomorphically, with hands clutching the box, and aesthetically, with the images’ hand-drawn look. Despite being mass-produced objects, the boxes’ function is private: for security, safekeeping. By using small, portable hardware that is industrially fabricated but for individual use, Crespo renders potentially alienating processes of production and replication single. The mobile scanners that hang two of the prints, then, illustrate our ability to take replication literally into our own hands. When we scan, we create. Are we “goddess,” or do our relationships with these devices “deform” reality, regardless of the resultant creations?
Since before eXistenZ, people have been wary of the dissociating effects of video games. Countless studies have questioned whether gamers bring on-screen violence to the “real” world. Although Cronenberg’s moral position remains unclear, eXistenZ ultimately presents something negative: a violent dystopia. Crespo addresses this paranoia explicitly in the 2014 series Complex Cases, which questions the motives and psychoses (often linked to video games) of notable young male killers like Adam Lanza and Elliot Rodger. And in polymorphoses the artist elaborates; interactive exhibition centerpiece polymist: echolalic transponder specifically fights perceived dissociating effects while being, in some ways, a game itself.
Andrea Crespo, polymist: echolalic transponder, 2015, EMDR light bar kit, stereo mixer, media player, 9m12s digital audio file, foam tiles, 30 x 49 x 49 inches. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York
To view the work you sit on a mat, wearing headphones and watching moving lights—much like the experience of playing a video game. But the EMDR light bar Crespo uses is borrowed from PTSD therapy; as such, the “game” cures the negative mental consequences of violence and gaming (PTSD or, for instance, Dissociative Identity Disorder). Simultaneously cause and cure, polymist evades definition (its subtitle is, more or less, “meaningless communication device”). Meaning is scattered like, well, mist, or the bar’s photons splashing from left to right and back again. We are there all the while, though, participating in the creation and destruction of our psyches.
Crespo’s pieces ultimately outline the ways in which technologies both distinguish and form—not “deform”—our realities. The objects in polymorphoses point to reproduction (scanners), even intercourse (inserted cables); they also suggest memories (PTSD) and dreams (the transient dotted images in parabiosis). They receive abstruse names like echolalic transponder or teratosyzygy—but like PTSD or DID, these jargon-y words have simple implications: we are hybrid beings feeling for our roots.
View the polymorphose press release video by Andrea Crespo here.
(Image at top: Installation view of polymorphoses, 2015. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York)