‘Depending on how you look at it, the art-book industry is either in precarious straits or the midst of a golden age,’ writes Andrew Russeth, co-executive editor at ARTnews.
While Russeth writes of a booming arts publishing moment in the United States, led by the “mega galleries” through their own publishing departments, it is a trend to which independents are also contributing, with the rise of online self-publishing opportunities, cheap off-shore printing in locations such as China and India, and independent art book fairs that celebrate the bespoke, drawing visitor numbers internationally that offer hearty support to the arts publishing sector.
What has been described as a dying industry could be in fact be “on the rise”. And if we look at the past month or so in Australia, the numbers would suggest that we are following this international trend.
Galleriest Nicholas Thompson told ArtsHub: ‘I don’t think Australia has lagged behind. I think art books have always been closely linked to the art produced in Australia. Like an artwork, a book has a tactility and tangibility to it that continues to be relevant. I think that the means of book production is rapidly changing though.’
GALLERIES ARE THE PUBLISHERS
In a fabulous article, On the Art World’s Publishing Boom, Russeth describes the art publishing landscape as being led by galleries: Hauser & Wirth, Matthew Marks Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Pace Gallery and David Zwirner, all of which have their own publishing departments.
‘Publishers are under more and more financial strain because there are fewer outlets to sell books now; I think they’re asking more and more of galleries,’ Craig Garrett, the editorial director of Matthew Marks Gallery, told Russeth.
‘[They’re] expecting galleries not just to give $10,000 toward the printing, but also to commission the essay and pay the writer and maybe even design the book. I think that’s why a lot of galleries have been saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we do this ourselves, completely? In the end it might even be cheaper,’ said Garrett.
Arts publishing in Australia has not quite slipped into the “cheap” category yet, however. There is a shared recognition that a strong publication can bolster an artist’s career, and galleries and artists are both looking to new ways to achieve that.
Thompson said: ‘There is an immediacy and, arguably, a limitation to an artist’s exhibition; it exists in a certain place for moment in time and then it is over. An artist book has a continuing life span, and perhaps a broader reach. It can be stocked in a book store, a school library or show up on a second-hand website. It most importantly is a way of compiling and consolidating the artist’s career; it allows all their exhibitions, works and achievement to be gathered and read as a whole, or the beginning of a whole!’
Thompson launched a publication on the work of Berlin-based Australian artist Arryn Snowball at the recent Sydney Contemporary art fair.
‘I also published a book on Su Baker through the gallery in 2016, and am currently working with Suzanne Archer on a monograph of her career, which we are aiming to launch next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of her first exhibition,’ he added.
Thompson believes it is important to publish on artists work as ‘it offers new ways for the work and the artist to be accessed and contextualised’, adding that it is also a way in which the artist can ‘communicate and explain not only what they do, but also what they have done’.
SELF-PUBLISHING HAS MOVED BEYOND VANITY PUBLISHING
Thompson said that technology has made it easier to create and promote publications. ‘They can be more readily produced and consumed than before, which is very exciting! Even the ways that artists can now archive their work and exhibitions digitally means that information is more accessible than it has been in the past.
‘I think as new generations with greater familiarity with technologies emerge the artist book will evolve even further,’ he added.
Today there are a smattering of online publishing programs that allow galleries and artists to be proactive in this sector without producing gargantuan tomes and shelling out five figures to get a book into print – programs such as issuu; Lulu (which has over 1000 new titles getting published each day); Blurb (better suited for art books); Scribd; Createspace, Smashwords (one of the largest self-publishing sites for independent book authors) and the list continues.
Thompson said: ‘I think as an artist you have to be responsible for your own career! Artists should definitely consider self publishing, there are many funding opportunities out there.’
The Arts Law Centre of Australia offers an information guide on self-publishing.
Some galleries are even pairing publications with limited edition prints or offerings to encourage sales and offset printing costs. Others are turning to the Art Book Fair, which not unlike art fairs have grown in number and popularity in recent years.
Russeth reports that the New York Art Book Fair, held annually in September at MoMA PS1, has grown from 41 exhibitors to 350 exhibitors from 31 countries, with over 35,000 people attending, between 2006-2016.
The biennial event VOLUME at Artspace in Sydney – in partnership with Printed Matter Inc. (New York) and Perimeter Books (Melbourne) – and the Art Book Fair at the National Gallery of Victoria (returning for its fifth edition from 15-17 March 2019) have both been incredibly successful, as has the MCA’s annual Zine Fair.
‘New generations are finding that self-publishing really is a form of cultural and political empowerment in a way,’ said Max Schumann of Printed Matter. ‘Books, like the pencil, will probably outlast the computer.’
Given the current noise around arts publishing, ArtsHub has surveyed activity in Australia this month, and these are the publications that were launched:
ARRYN SNOWBALL: SELECTED WORKS
Launched at the recent Sydney Contemporary art fair (16 September) by Nicholas Thompson Gallery, this book covers Arryn Snowball’s major series’ of paintings and photographs from 2003 to 2017.
Snowball’s practice draws upon abstraction and representations of light, movement and text. The volume includes 150 pages with over 80 images, essays by Dr Rosemary Hawker and Megan Williams, and an interview with the artist by Dr Jonathan McBurnie.
This publication was produced with support from the Australia Council for the Arts.
Distributed by Nicholas Thompson Gallery