Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Printed Matter NYC

Before I jump into a discussion about Printed Matter, first let me update you on my various goings on. First, I had a couple of pieces accepted into an exhibition. I have several art related articles and reviews coming out through a new venue soon. The conceptual literary project I am co-editing is moving along nicely. I will post that information when the material is available. A craft retail outlet has agreed to carry a few of my artists' books. And lastly concerning my novel Good For Nothing, my agents are working away, sending out my manuscript along with a cover letter which features the generous blurb I received. When I know more on that front, I will certainly pass it along.

The following printed interview was published in JAB 28 as part of a much larger discussion about the ways in which artists' books are displayed and distributed. As I have written previously, Printed Matter has been hugely important to book artists. My questions to Catherine Krudy appear after the BG and her responses after the CK. It is my understanding that Catherine has stepped down as Director since this interview was completed.
Printed Matter at night

Let me start with a little context: Printed Matter is the world''s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists; with over 15,000 titles available and over 5,000 artists represented. It is located in New York City with a main display space of around only 1,500 square feet. It’s stated mission is to foster the appreciation, dissemination, and understanding of artists' publications, which they define as books or other editioned publications conceived by artists as art works. Printed Matter specializes in publications produced in large, inexpensive editions and therefore does not deal in "book arts" or "book objects" which are often produced in smaller, more expensive editions due to the craft and labor involved in their fabrication.

In her role as Director of Printed Matter, Catherine Krudy was involved in both daily activities and special projects. She helped to organize the 2009 NY Art Book Fair and Printed Matter : Learn to Read Art, at MUSAC in León, Spain. Prior to joining Printed Matter, Catherine gained experience in both commercial and non-profit environments at Zach Feuer Gallery, The Whitney Museum, and White Columns, among others. 

BG- How do find the books you sell? Who purchases them?

CK- The majority of the books available here arrive through our submission process, but we also take on titles through other channels including our relationships with artists and publishers, commercial distributions, donations and out of print opportunities.
I don't think that a typical Printed Matter customer exists. We strive to maintain an extremely diverse inventory and as a result, we have a wide range of buyers. All of the books that are available in store are also listed on our website. So since we ship internationally, we have customers around the world. We also actively work to arrange acquisitions of titles by universities, libraries and museums.

BG- One thing I am interested in is the way that many outlets build a community and educate an audience; and then curate based on the interests of those who are active participants. Do you feel one of your projects is nurturing a culture that, in turn, creates a market for the work you carry?

CK- We definitely strive to support a community interested in artists’ publications.  During the academic year, we host visiting classes (mainly students at the college level but have had high school students and recently even middle school students) and give them presentations on contemporary artists books using current materials. We also continuously host book launches and signings throughout the year that offer a chance to meet artists and celebrate new publications. A few years ago, we became concerned with the current landscape of art books in New York City, especially as rents continued to rise and smaller bookshops were forced to close. So we decided to host a fair dedicated to art books and The NY Art Book Fair was born. The fair has become one of our main annual activities and has grown over the years; last year's fair attendance was over 12,500. In addition to offering an opportunity for the public to interact with publishers, distributors, out of print dealers and self-publishing artists, the fair provides a chance for these exhibitors to meet and exchange ideas face to face. Printed Matter's primary role continues to be as a distributor, so we strive to encourage the purchase of titles that we carry.

BG- After more than 30 years of influence, Printed Matter has managed to maintain its emphasis on affordable printed art. Do you think PM is still an outlet where developing artists can find representation?
PM event
CK- Over 5,000 artists are represented in our inventory and the majority of those artists do not have gallery representation. When we review books through submission, we don't consider supplementary materials such as C.V.s or bios. So often, we are not fully aware of artists' exhibition histories. We continue to review hundreds of titles a month and take on a good number of them as our new titles have been averaging around 150 a month. So yes, we are one of the few places in the New York art world that continue to show work by developing artists as received through a submission process.

BG- Printed Matter has influenced many other retail art projects. Can you name an organization that PM inspired? 

CK- I can't say which shops have been directly inspired by Printed Matter, but certainly there is a community of independent retailers with whom we feel a strong kinship. And certainly, the argument could be made that Printed Matter was directly inspired by places like Art Metropole in Toronto or Other Books and So in Amsterdam. Some of the places to which we feel strongly connected, like Bookie Wookie in Amsterdam have been around for a number of years, but a growing number of outlets for artists books have popped up more recently. This informal network includes Family in Los Angeles, Golden Age in Chicago, Motto in Berlin/Zurich, and Utrecht in Tokyo.

BG- How is your store arranged? How would you characterize what you carry? Is there a division between artists’ books, graphic novels, periodicals and other merchandise? Or do you not carry all of these?

CK- For the most part, books are shelved according to artist's last name. We also have some special sections for periodicals, small books, audio, and featured artists or presses. A certain number of titles at a given time also fall under the category "new and featured," which is self-explanatory.  Even though these categories provide some organizational structure, due to the sheer size of our inventory, finding items can present a challenge, even for the staff.  Once a year, when we do inventory and count everything, we give everything a clear location. So the best time to visit our storefront is in late July - it's our most organized time of year.
Since artists' publications are not a hard and fast category, I would note that instead of looking out for divisions between publication genres, we like to investigate the overlaps. In recent years, we have done special presentations of these venn diagram moments, such as with artists' comic books, artists' magazines, and artists' zines.
Due to the limited physical space at Printed Matter, we seek to curtail the presentation of items like posters, prints, multiples, clothing etc (which I think fall into the "other merchandise" category). But as we appreciate the democratic multiple, we do have some special moments such as our annual t-shirt day celebration and our holiday multiple spectacular exhibition series of Giftland.

BG- Arguably, at its conception there was something inherently political about Printed Matter. Do you think distributing printed art which operates outside the gallery system is still a political statement or social commentary? Does Printed Matter have a specific political or social stance? If so, what is it?

CK- By existing as a non-profit organization with all of its requirements, Printed Matter is taking a stance to provide particular services and programming within the art world. Thus we are providing a space within the art world which commercial operations alone cannot, which I think construes as social commentary.
Printed Matter does not have a formal political or social stance, but our attitude as an organization reflects both our history as well as the values of current staff members. Some of the issues that we feel strongly about include human rights and freedom of expression.
Even though our publishing program is extremely modest, it's titles are often political in nature, such as our publication and re-publication of Martha Rosler's Service: A Trilogy on Colonization. We also recently began our Artists + Activists' series, which is inspired by the American tradition of political pamphleteering and is given away for free. At our book fair, we provide free tables to artists and presses who make and distribute political materials.

BG- Is PM still able to reach out to an audience that might be intimidated by a traditional gallery experience?

CK- If anything, I would say that our current location has become increasingly approachable for an audience that is potentially intimidated by a traditional gallery experience. We currently operate out of a ground level storefront whereas our last location was tucked away inside a building housing only galleries and other arts organizations. Now, passersby can visibly discover us.
Additionally, we have an open office so that visitors are able to ask staff questions. With our current location and the increase in foot traffic due to neighborhood additions like The High Line, one of the most frequent questions is "What is this place?" By seeking to engage with the inquiring public, I believe we offer a welcoming experience. 

Cheers everyone. Thanks for visiting. 

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