London Art Book Fair 2010

Last weekend I headed to The Whitechapel Art Gallery for two of my favourite things in one – art and books together at the London Art Book Fair.

This annual event devoted to international art publishing showcases books by everyone from the big players (Tate, Thames & Hudson, Phaidon and co.) through to quirky independent zines, gallery publications, self-publishing projects and beautiful one-off books created by artists. This year’s fair was also accompanied by a whole host of book related activities, ranging from book signings with artists like Martin Creed and Bob & Roberta Smith, to workshops on creative writing and artist books, to talks on subjects like self-publishing and e-zines.

As someone who is endlessly fascinated by all books, but in particular by the idiosyncracy, individuality, tactile loveliness and sheer good fun of DIY publishing, I have to admit that for me, going to the London Art Book Fair is a bit like going to a sweet shop. Here are a few favourites that caught my eye:

The Whitechapel has its own range of publications, including exhibition catalogues and artist publications like The Jake and Dinos Chapman Colouring Book. However, I’m a particular fan of their Documents of Contemporary Art Series, which bring together a rigorous selection of writings and theoretical texts on a particular topic – be it Participation, The Archive or The Artist’s Joke. Although they ostensibly have a focus on contemporary art theory, there are texts by all kinds of theorists and cultural commentators here, and titles like The Gothic and The Sublime are definitely relevant to a wider audience.

Art of McSweeney
’s was the title that instantly grabbed my attention at the Tate Publishing stand. With a dust-jacket that folds out into a double-sided poster, copious illustrations and contributions from collaborators including Michael Chabon, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Marcel Dzama, Joyce Carol Oates and Chris Ware, this is a rich and beautifully presented book in the true McSweeney’s tradition. You can watch a short video about the book here:

Tate also publish an interesting selection of illustrated children's books, which true to form, I find it difficult to resist. I love Around the World With Mouk, which follows the international adventures of a cute globe-trotting bear, and one of my most recent acquisitions is Counting Birds, a charmingly illustrated picture book by Alice Melvin, with lovely spreads like this:

Amongst their children's titles at the book fair, I also took a fancy to their new Art Collector game – a variation on the traditional Happy Families-style card game, where children can aquire, collect and trade famous works of art from Warhol to Whistler. Perfect practice for the Charles Saatchis of the future. And I was immediately drawn to Big-Top Benn by David McKee: first published forty years ago, this is the original story of Mr Benn, who here swaps his bowler hat for a clown costume and is transported into the colourful world of the circus. More lovely, evocative spreads to enjoy:

Black Dog Publishing are a relative newcomer on the publishing scene, but have already published an impressive range of intriguing illustrated books about art, architecture and contemporary culture. I have to admit to being a little disappointed by their recent book Illustrated Children’s Books (though I admit when it comes to children’s books I am probably hard to please) but I enjoyed a good flick through a new title, Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters by David Sacks.

Four Corners Familiars
is a series of titles from Four Corners Books that particularly appeals to me. Artists are invented to respond to classic novels and short stories, resulting in some very different kinds of reading experiences. The Picture of Dorian Grey with art by Gareth Jones reimagines the story as a costume drama set in 1970s Paris in a large-format edition that returns to the story’s original origins in a magazine; whilst James Pyman presents Dracula in a series of different typefaces based on those used at the time of the novel’s publication; and Donald Urqhart gives Becky Sharp a 1930s Hollywood feel in Vanity Fair.

Amongst the individual artists and designers whose work was on display, I loved graphic designer and illustrator Kaho Kojima’s quirky printed books and pop-ups. Chisato Tambayashi also uses pop-ups and paper cutting techniques in a series of beautiful books and cards like these:
One of my favourite new discoveries at the fair was Lovely Daze, a curatorial journal that is published biannually. The journal aspires to provide a platform for artists to present their writings and artworks, and each one has a different topic or theme, ranging from ‘a day in New York when nothing happens’ through to ‘Numbers’. My favourite, however, was a special edition recipe book by pastry chef Angela Garcia, accompanied by incredibly beautiful paintings by Cristina Roduriguez, on the theme of ‘A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’. What could be better than yummy paintings and recipes?

Finally, for anyone at all interested in reading more about art books, zines and artist publications, I heartily recommend the wonderful blog Book By Its Cover - a treasure trove of lovely books to discover and explore.

[All images from publisher websites unless otherwise specified]