Art House: Printed Matter
September 14, 2015
The iconic art booksellers on independent publishing, editioned prints and Soho House New York’s latest pop-up Stairwell Gallery.
This Thursday, Soho House New York will celebrate its newest Stairwell Gallery installation courtesy of nonprofit art bookstore Printed Matter with a pop-up shop, party and artist talk hosted by PM Fairs and Editions curator Shannon Michael Cane.
Ahead of the event, we sat down with Cane to hear more about the installation, Printed Matter’s upcoming Art Book Fair at MoMa PS1 and latest Chelsea storefront.
Tell us about the Editions Program you run at Printed Matter.
We’re about to celebrate 40 years of supporting independent art publishing. While we’re a nonprofit, selling artist books on consignment can be tough with a Chelsea rent to pay. When money gets tight, we’ve been able to call on favors from artist friends who are willing to commission editions of their work for us and inject some much-needed funds into Printed Matter, especially as we gear up to move into our new space at 231 11th Avenue, which will open in October.
Who is the clientele for these sort of works?
I think there’s always going to be a need for artists to do editions because there’s always going to be such a huge audience who want a piece of the artist but just can’t afford their original art. Many artists don’t just want to make work for museums and wealthy collectors; they also want to make it for the kids living in Greenpoint who earn $50,000 a year and want to be able to get some joy out of collecting. That’s where editions come in.
Printed Matter was founded in Tribeca, then moved to SoHo before settling in Chelsea. Has the store changed in other ways beyond the location?
We’re about 40 years old, so when we first opened in the late 1970s, this whole idea of conceptual artist books was still in a very freeform phase. That was during a time when Lucy Lippard and Edward Ruscha and Sol Lewitt were making books for $5, and they now sell for $5,000 each. Today, our inventory ranges across a broad spectrum: we’ve got the $5,000 to $10,000 first-edition pieces, all the way down to Xeroxed zines made by kids in Bushwick for 50 cents each.
Where does that place you in the art world?
We have this weird position in the art world where we’re still relevant there, but were founded as a reaction against the gallery system. Now, we’ve got a booth at Art Basel Switzerland, selling zines made by punk kids right next to installations by some of the biggest contemporary artists in the world. And the big collectors there will want to buy the same zines as the Bushwick kids — purely because they share an interest in independent publishing.
What’s the reaction been to independent publishing as people continue to get more digitally-oriented?
It’s crazy: independent publishing has gotten so popular — we’re busier now than we’ve ever been. We have more staff, more books, and the visibility of Printed Matter as an organization has spread worldwide. Our 10th annual New York Art Book Fair is in three weeks (LA’s is at the end of January), and now people are doing art book fairs all around the world — in Tokyo, Sydney, Philly and even Bushwick.
Why do you think people are gravitating so much to independent publishing now?
I think everything is reactionary. Art book-making was reactionary in the ’70s to this gallery system built for rich New York collectors. Then in the mid 2000’s, we experienced the death of publishing: Barnes and Nobles everywhere started to close and people started buying e-books. Now, I think there’s been a reaction against that, too. We spend all day sitting at our computers sending emails, and then in our social time we’re looking at Instagram and Facebook. But to have an organization that actually specializes in printed material that’s meant to be a tangible dialogue with the artist? That’s something special.
And what’s the reaction to your artist editions been like?
New York kids start out lining up for Supreme gear and limited edition Nike sneakers; they eventually grow up, get their own apartments, but they’re still obsessed with collecting. As they get older, they’ll shift their focus to art. We’re seeing it a lot lately: If you go to one of our art fairs, you’ll see a bunch of young hipster kids and students wanting to get in on the action and purchase stuff they can connect with. That’s where editions become such a great way to start collecting.