The New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, which takes place every year in September, has long served as the kickoff for the art world’s various back-to-school festivities, but this year, a similar event was created to take us into the season as well. The Brooklyn Art Book Fair, co-produced by BHQFU and Endless Editions, transformed the McCarren Park Pool into a veritable literary wonderland for a few short hours last weekend, and included not just books and zines, but performances by Zebadiah Keneally and Ofri Cnaani plus an afterparty at the nearby bar Night of Joy DJ’d by artist Jayson Musson (aka DJ Hennessy Youngman).
With the requisite kitschy, irreverent wares by many of the usual art book fair suspects, including Printed Matter, Pegacorn Press, and Carrier Pigeon magazine, the fair felt like a gathering of all the coolest kids you know — or just follow on Instagram. And while there was plenty to buy that was just for fun (“Books is Power” totes, ceramic cigarette butt pins), many sellers came prepared to outfit the crowd with liberal, feminist, anti-Trump paraphernalia. Because really, who’s buying anything these days that doesn’t come with a message?
“Typically, we’re a nomadic curatorial experience,” said Caroline Wheat of Elijah Wheat Showroom, who presided over a table of attention-grabbing patches and pins. “But we got together with a handful of artists and started putting together a ‘Wear Your Resistance’ campaign. If you’re going to be in the streets or the mall, or say you’re sitting in a board room, you have on something like a patch or a lapel pin. We basically wanna retake that red [Make America Great Again] cap, turn it around, and have each other identify one another as folks that are part of the resistance.”
While art book fairs are obviously a great place to pick up gifts for your more, shall we say, open-minded friends and family, they’re also crucial in providing a platform for historically marginalized voices that are still less likely to get picked up by mainstream galleries and publishing houses. If we learned anything from the ’90s, it’s that zines and their ilk are relatively cheap and easy to print, making them accessible for a wider variety of creators than books, paintings, albums, and other art forms. But even in today’s hyperconnected world, finding an audience and a distribution mechanism can be tricky.
“We’re a feminist, queer, total art-freaker publishing house,” explained Caroline Paquita of Pegacorn Press. “I have a bunch of lithograph stencil duplicators in my house, which is how I printed all this. These are digitally printed, but I sew them all up myself. I either publish my own work or artists that I feel like fall into those qualifications,” she said, gesturing to a table full of delicate floral “hankies” bearing the word “cunt” and thin, pink booklets with the title “Womanimalistic.”
Fairs like this one — full of the kinds of people who would proudly sport “I’m Not Ovary-Acting” patches and don’t grimace at the sight of the “c-word”– feel like a testament to the underappreciated importance of going out into the world and making connections IRL, whether it’s at an art opening or a scrappy book fair at your local public pool. After all, as we set about organizing the political resistance that feels poised to define the next several years, at some point, we’re gonna have to stop infinitely scrolling and begin actually talking. And where better to do that than over some nice hand-crafted books?
It’s still unknown whether the Brooklyn Art Book Fair will become an annual thing or whether we’ll have to continue relying on its larger, more polished MoMA PS1 cousin for our art book needs, but I, for one, would happily venture back to McCarren Park for a second helping of in-your-face, politically-charged shopping with a side of zany performance art.