When you hear the term “art book,” what do you think? Do you imagine a gleaming, high-end store exclusively for sophisticates, academics, and design geeks? Do you reflexively visualize a heavy, clunky publication that never moves from the same spot on your living room table? Or do you just pine for all the beautiful-looking books that are too expensive and unwieldy for you ever to display in your tiny apartment?
Aay Preston-Myint and Alex Valentine, the cofounders of the Chicago Art Book Fair (which begins this evening at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel), want to change the way you think of art books.
“Some people find ‘art book’ to be a contentious term, and not inclusive,” Valentine says by phone. “Some people have run counterfairs, or fairs opposed to that model.”
What lends to that opposition is an unnecessarily narrow perception of the art-book community as a niche market, Valentine points out. In contrast, he and Preston-Myint conceived of the CABF not so much as an art-book fair as an open exhibit where art people, art-book people, and book people—writers and publishers—can meet up, learn from each other, and find new ways to collaborate.
“The ‘art book’ moniker is used as somewhat of a generic term that can be pliable and that people can identify with,” Valentine says. “We’ve made some efforts to make it an open term.”
Preston-Myint and Valentine are partners in the subscription service No Coast Editions, which they formed after closing their No Coast gallery space in Pilsen. The art prints NCE sends to subscribers signal the kind of intersection of art and print media that the duo envision.
To promote NCE, Preston-Myint and Valentine went to art-book fairs all across the world, but they didn’t plan on starting one in Chicago until they went to Vancouver.
“The hosts were very outgoing and paid particular attention to visitors and programming and after-fair events around the city,” Valentine says. “The location was in a central location in downtown Vancouver. It was the right speed and scale.”
After friends of friends connected Preston-Myint and Valentine with someone from the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, things started to move pretty fast. They recruited assistant directors Imani Jackson and Conor Stechschulte to help organize the fair and a range of satellite events to go with it. So as not to make CABF a curatorial project, the group went the juried route and assembled a peer-review committee to go over applications.
Valentine sees CABF as an addition to an already rich community rather than as a replacement or rival. He mentions Zine Fest and CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, as evidence of the city’s fertile self-publishing and art-publishing scenes. Still, he hopes CABF can become an institution in its own right, albeit one that upends assumptions of what “institutions” are.
“We’re hoping—it’s the first year—we’re hoping for a kind of buzzing energy for something this group of people haven’t done before,” Valentine says. “It’s an opportunity for visitors to engage with working artists, artists who are engaging with media forms and publishing as part of their practice.”
CABF is free and open to the public—including the preview tonight, where there’ll be a pop-up bar organized by Land and Sea Department. Preston-Myint and Valentine encourage people to come to that too.
Chicago Art Book Fair 11/16-11/19: Thu 5-9 PM, Fri 11 AM-6 PM, Sat 11 AM-7 PM, Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan, 312-940-3552, cabf.no-coast.org, free.