Each week of Recto / Verso centered around a specific topic within the field of art publishing, beginning with an in-depth look at how art books circulate in creative communities, then shifting focus to activism and zine publishing, artists’ books and artist-run presses. The series concluded with an exploration of digital, institutional, and non-profit publishing. Events took place at both Artbook @ MoMA PS1 in Long Island City and at the Hauser & Wirth Publishers Bookshop in Chelsea.
Recto / Verso culminated in an eponymous publication that acts as both a record and an invitation to continue conversations from the series. Produced by Hauser & Wirth Publishers and launching on the occasion of Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair in September, the book’s structure corresponds to each week of Recto / Verso programming, including excerpts from the panels and workshop outlines, as well as contributions from series participants and information about their respective practices and organizations.
Brick-and-mortar spaces like bookshops, libraries, and art book fairs have become sites of resistance in their championing of live interactions between people and objects over efficiency. During the first week of the series, Emmy Caterdral (Coordinator of Fairs and Editions at Printed Matter), Sharon Helgason Gallagher (President & Publisher, ARTBOOK | D.A.P.), Nicole Kaack (Dedalus Fellow in The Museum of Modern Art Archives), and Lisa Pearson (Publisher at Siglio Press), in a panel moderated by Megan N. Liberty, discussed the changing role of the artbook within an increasingly digitally-oriented and e-commerce-driven culture.
‘As an independent publisher, before I was with D.A.P., I dealt directly with bookstores. And each bookstore, especially in the age of Amazon, those stores have had to reinvent themselves as highly curated spaces. As places where communities can gather or where there are events, just like we’re doing now.’
– Lisa Pearson, Siglio Press
In conjunction with the panel, artist and publisher Paul Soulellis (Library of the Printed Web) led a workshop in which participants collaborated on a publication that combined digital and analog media.
Zine culture is as driven by anarchists, punks, and political protesters as it is by various art communities. Week two of the series brought together 3 Dot Zine, Endless Editions, TXTbooks, Interference Archive, and 8-Ball Community for a talk on the inherently subversive nature of zine publishing. Led by Femme Mâché, the conversation delved into the influence of DIY publishing in activism and art practice, along with the application of that spirit to community engagement.
‘…if we’re talking in terms of accessibility, sometimes all it means to call yourself a publisher in the zine world is having a printer and letting anyone come in and make whatever they want. That contaminates the otherwise agreed upon definition of what a publisher is and what power that holds.’
– Bobbi Salvör-Menuez, 8-Ball Community
Following the discussion, Stefanie Lewin of Young Artist Zine Alliance led an interactive workshop where participants were taught the history of zines as a crafty form of DIY activism. The workshop delved into different zine-making techniques.
Artists’ books and artist-run presses do the boundary-pushing work of approaching the book as three-dimensional work whose production and physical form is as relevant as the content it contains. During week three Recto / Verso spotlighted the work of four artist-run presses and bookmakers — Cooperative Editions, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Peradam Press, and Small Editions — as they discussed the ways books function as art objects and how that methodology informs the creative process behind bookmaking and publishing as well as the politics, practices, and ideas that drive projects.
‘…you lose something without having an object that links you to other people in this way: we’ve touched each of these things that now other people are touching and it’s like, a more or less finite number of people that are engaged with it and can pass it on.’
– Elizabeth Jaeger, co-founder of Peradam Press
Putting that framework into action, Celine Lombardi of the Center for Book Arts hosted a workshop that taught participants how to make numerous book structures for self-publishing art and writings, exploring variations on the pamphlet and accordion book.
Institutions and galleries have long been the driving forces of traditional art publishing through the practice of producing exhibition and collection catalogs. The large-scale glossy books are often filled with seductively-reproduced images and comprehensive essays that are fundamentally appealing, acting as powerful visual objects as well as tools providing insight into artists’ practices. Increasingly, the landscape of this type of publishing has become more nuanced with the rise of nonprofit and digital publishers who often come to independent publishing with alternative forms of distribution, funding sources, and content generation.
In the first part of week four, Hauser & Wirth Publishers facilitated a discussion with leaders in institutional publishing that focused on how galleries, museums, and other established print and digital publishers influence the process of publishing itself. Panelists from e-flux journal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and Rhizome explored how art publications become vehicles that accomplish what these institutions set out to do, and how these publications exist independently from the programs and spaces for which they are created.
The second panel featured several nonprofit publishers, including The Drawing Center, Pioneer Works Press, Primary Information, and Printed Matter, moderated by Sharon Helgason Gallagher of ARTBOOK | D.A.P. Their conversation delved into the value of independent publishing, organizing and attending art book fairs, and creating models for sustainable publishing practice.
‘Whether it’s through social media or book fairs or talks or publications, the way that I see it is that every chance is an opportunity to talk about a particular artists’ work. My goal is to sell books. That’s what I want to do. I’m in service to the people who create things.’
– Craig Mathis, Bookstore and Distribution Manager of Printed Matter
Recto / Verso Book Market
For the last event of Recto / Verso we celebrated the series with an evening of drinks in the Roth Bar and provided a chance for everyone to browse and purchase the publications produced by the series’ esteemed presenters. There was also a brief presentation from designer Brian Paul Lamotte on the process of creating ‘Recto / Verso: Art Book Publishing and Practice, New York.’