Think You Know The Best of The Cultural Mile? | Seeking Beauty on The Printed Page

21 November 2017

1000M’s prime location places it at the center of Chicago’s robust art scene. It’s walking distance from great galleries, world renowned museums and spectacular public art on the lakefront. This weekend, the neighborhood enjoyed a creative novelty just up the street at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel with the inaugural Chicago Art Book Fair (CABF), which ran from November 16 to November 19.

Unlike anything else in Chicago, the CABF’s robust programming celebrated small press arts publishing and showcased more than 120 local, national and international publishers, small presses, book artists, comic artists, zinemakers and printmakers who all exhibited at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. CABF also included presentations, panels, and discussions with the artists throughout the city. Co-founded and co-directed by Alexander Valentine and Aay Preston-Myint, all programming was free and open to the public.

Exhibitors were selected through a juried application process. Twenty-two arts and publishing professionals reviewed over 260 applications, with 120 selected to represent the vibrant world of small press arts publishing. A fair of this breadth and inclusivity has never existed in Chicago.

Many of the artists of CABF’s Open Program exhibited in the one-time pool of the Chicago Athletic Association.

Valentine and Preston-Myint did their homework by traveling extensively to national and international small press arts publishing fairs, and came to believe their hometown Chicago has the talent and interest to support its own. “Chicago has a lot to offer in terms of arts printing,” said Valentine, who is the publisher of No Coast and a lecturer at the Yale University School of Art. “We wanted to create something inclusive” of the diverse works that exist under the umbrella of small press arts publishing.

And inclusive it was. Exhibited works at the CAA included risograph prints, buttons, patches, zines, hand stitched poetry books, newspapers and puzzles of cereal boxes, among much more.

Prints and other works by artist Jamiyla Lowe

Boyang Hou, part of a three-person team that manages the Fernwey Gallery in West Town that exhibited at the CABF, said, “There are so many forms to explore and ways to approach different mediums. It keeps it interesting for the artist.”

Scott Speh, owner of the Western Exhibitions Gallery that hosted the CABF official after-party Friday, and an exhibitor, believes a focus on form or how to define small press arts publishing should not be the focus. “I’m not necessarily interested in any particular art medium,” he explains, “but what a piece communicates.”

Western Exhibitions, a Gallery in West Town, hosted the official CABF after-party on Friday.

An overarching characteristic of the works arguably is accessibility; small press arts publishing does not break the bank for creator or consumer. At the host site, where most exhibited works were available for purchase, prices ranged from less than $5 to $500. Most art shows exhibit works in the tens of thousands of dollar price range (or more).

The Video Data Bank table exhibited videos for purchase by and about contemporary artists.

Valentine explains, “At the universities where we teach, Aay and I see a lot of young people who are or want to be involved in small press arts publishing. It’s accessible, both because of price and cultural barriers.” He added, “Small press arts publishing isn’t dependent on any cultural gatekeeper” like other mediums.

Some of our favorites were a limited-edition puzzle based on a fruity pebbles’ cereal box by Kevin Goodrich, exhibited through the Fenwey Gallery, and Adjunct Commuter Weekly — a one-off newspaper edition that showcased the struggles of American Adjunct professors. Paper Monument, a non-profit art press based in Brooklyn, exhibited The Weekly.

Speh’s table showcased a newly-published monograph of Robyn O’Neil’s work. On Saturday, O’Neil, who is known for her large-scale graphite drawings, signed copies of the book; she is known for sometimes slipping surprise free drawings into the pages of some of the books she signs.

Robyn O’Neil is known for her large scale graphite drawings.

In the same week that Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was auctioned for $450.3 million, CABF’s offerings were a welcome counterbalance in the often-pricey and sometimes culturally-guarded art world.

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The Chicago Art Book Fair // Chicago Athletic Association Hotel // Partner Institutions throughout Chicago // Free and Open to the Public // 11.16 – 11.19