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Friday, September 16th, 2016

“We want to have some fun”: Karen Schaupeter Describes IABF

Artist and curator Karen Schaupeter is known in New York indie publishing circles as the force behind Ed. Varie, the East Village-based gallery and project space which, earlier this year, opened a location in the Eagle Rock neighborhood in Los Angeles. Schaupeter is also the founder of the Independent Art Book Fair (IABF), which premieres later this week at the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse. She recently discussed the project with Stephen Maine. 

Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, location of the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.
Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, location of the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.

STEPHEN MAINE: When I heard about the IABF, my first thought was: terrific! My second thought was… what a load of work it must be to launch a new art book fair. I’m wondering for how long you’ve been focused on developing the IABF. What were the circumstances of its genesis? How did the idea take shape?

KAREN SCHAUPETER: When I first conceived of the idea, I wanted to get it out the door around February 2016, during either the time of the LA Contemporary Art Fair, or Paramount Ranch — things that happen at the end of January — or alongside the LA Art Book Fair (LAABF) in the second week of February. But the timing was tight and the venue I wanted wasn’t available, so I went down to Mexico City and did an artist residency about two blocks from the Material Art Fair. They said “Come do this in Mexico City.” So I had Mexico City and LA developing before New York — those locations are essentially available when I get there. It felt like I was already getting off the ground in three different locations.

I first announced in May 2016 that I would do the fair, and the response was fantastic. I was expecting… well, you never know. I thought people might be protective of the PS1 event. But the responses were nothing but positive.

I created the IABF to include people from all over the world. This is the first fair, so we’ll see what happens. It’s all open to interpretation — I have certain expectations but I’m trying not to let my expectations overshadow whatever will actually happen, or the democratic spirit of the event.

Tiny Atlas Quarterly, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.
Tiny Atlas Quarterly, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.

Is IABF in any sense modeled after the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF)? Do you see IABF as a satellite fair, in the way that smaller-scale projects have proliferated around art fairs such as the Armory Show and Art Basel Miami?

I don’t know what word would best describe it. “Satellite” is kind of unavoidable, since IABF is the smaller of two fairs happening concurrently. But my goal is to make something a little more digestible, and more of a hybrid of an art fair and a book fair. We’re definitely not modeled after NYABF, though some other things have been inspiring, like the Index Art Book Fair in Mexico City. That venue is amazing, and the sellers are not overly pressured — it’s a relaxed environment. I’d like to see that at the IABF. And at the LAABF, I liked seeing the zines and the smaller publishers alongside the limited edition publishers. Seeing the high and the low together makes everyone appreciate what it is they’re looking at a little bit more.

We’re not competing with NYABF, because there’s been such an incredible rise in book publishing that they just don’t have the physical space for everyone who wants to do something. It’s great, and it’s definitely the “institution,” what everyone wants to be a part of, but there are boundaries and limitations. With all the newcomers making great things, there’s plenty of room for another fair.

Why is the IABF scheduled for the same weekend as NYABF?

It’s part of my effort to be efficient. Bookmakers from all over the world are in New York then, so why would I do IABF in, like, October? With all the fairs going on all over the world, you have to respect people’s time. I think it will alleviate some pressure at the NYABF — we’re one stop away on the East River Ferry, at the Greenpoint ferry stop.

Fairs are a function of capital as well as culture, of course, so I’m curious about IABF as a corporate entity. Who are the fair’s primary backers? Have you been pursuing corporate sponsorship?

There is no financial backing for this. I’m very DIY by nature. It’s completely operated by me, putting in time whenever I can. Our director, Kayla Fanelli, puts in a lot of time. There are a lot of other people volunteering, but in terms of administration, it’s Kayla and me.

IABF isn’t set up as a corporate entity at this point. I want to get through the fair first, then figure out the structure moving forward. We might decide it should be a nonprofit, or remain a sole proprietorship, fiscally sponsored by a group like NYFA or Fractured Atlas.

How has the IABF attracted exhibitors?

Mainly, I reached out to my email list, which includes about 700 publishers all around the world.

Can you give me an idea of who the exhibitors are? Will there be a concentration at the zine end of the spectrum, or of artist books/limited editions, or something else? And what price range can visitors expect to see?

We have over 60 exhibitors from the US and internationally. As to publications, there is quite a price range — from about $10 to $1,500. The mix is a little bit of everything, some of the zine-y/lowbrow/fetish material; the more crafty zines, using screenprint and woodcut techniques; and then higher-end publications and independent periodicals; a little queer culture; the independent gallery projects presenting one or more artists; and some larger academic things will be happening. Designers and Books will present their facsimile reproduction of an important avant-garde book, Depero Futurista, also known as the “bolted book.” The original dates from 1927, and it presages so much of where we’ve gone with graphic design over the past nearly 100 years. The new edition will be available for pre-order. It’s a great example of the book as a vehicle of communication, and of our effort to strike that delicate balance between art and commerce. 

Foundations, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.
Foundations, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.

You are a hybrid insofar as visitors can see original art also.

Yes. I wanted to open the door to smaller galleries, so they can present an artist’s work and not have to kill themselves financially. 

You’re keeping exhibitor costs affordable, then?

Exhibitors’ fees range from $250 to $2,500. I want to create a fair that’s more democratic and I hope to be able to keep a simply structured pricing arrangement. That way, gallery can get in for $2,500 and get 16 to 20 linear feet of exhibition area on two flat walls — and they can do whatever they want.

Nowadays, many if not most print publishers have some kind of online presence, but are any of your exhibitors involved solely in online publication?

No IABF exhibitor publishes online only, except for Tiny Atlas Quarterly. Tiny Atlas was started with the intention of making it a quarterly print magazine, but the Instagram handle took off, and the hashtag #mytinyatlas has something like 1.7 million photos attached to it. This is a project that is only about three years old. They have a huge community of people who embrace what they’re doing, and because they are a major part of the publishing community, it made sense for them to participate. It’s about the project, working with artists, and involvement with the community. Our lines are open.

Who is handling the exhibition design, and what is the concept regarding the look and feel of the visitor’s experience of the fair?

I am the creative force behind the exhibition design, much of which is rooted in being resourceful and democratic with materials and fees. Most of the contributions we have received have been in-kind with time, or majorly discounted flat rates. Kim Sutherland of Full Time-Part Time Design studio did our logo/brand element. I have help from interior architect Sarah T. Engelke, Faster Horse Designs, and countless others who are helping with poster layout, exhibitor catalog design, and printing: Nic Jamieson, Alexander Soiseth, C&B Printing and more. It’s really a grassroots project at this point. I think I have used up my friend favors for a while now!

How did you settle on the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse as a venue?

I’ve been in photo production for 17 years, and I’ve done a lot of location scouting. For IABF, I did quite a bit of legwork to find an appropriate place. A tip lead me to the Brooklyn Expo in Greenpoint, which wasn’t available, but the contact for that venue showed me a photo of their new space, the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, and I said, “Done! I want that space.” The vibe of this raw warehouse in Brooklyn is in some ways similar to the vibe of the fairs in Mexico City and LA.

Is any additional programming scheduled?

We have some help from a Brooklyn publisher called Perfect Wave, with performances daily from 5:00 to 7:00 pm, by Alice Cohen, The Vets, Sex Crystals, and Tropical Rock. There will be readings and panel discussions. Stephen Shore just started a new publication called Documentum, published by Fall Line Press, for which there will be an event. Hana Pesut, a photographer from Vancouver, will do portraits of couples who’ve switched their clothes, in the spirit of her book Switcheroo. It should be hilarious. We want to have some fun, and to keep a nice rhythm of something happening maybe every hour or two.

Of all the challenges this project undoubtedly presented, what was the biggest hurdle you had to clear?

Organizing during the summer was a huge challenge, because everyone is away. We were getting auto-replies from some people for the entire month of August. 

As a new venture, IABF has no financial track record as a baseline measure. By what criteria will you grade its success? Is exhibitor feedback important to you? I mean, in the event that exhibitors overall make money, gain contacts, get some publicity, etc. but the fair itself is not profitable, how will you proceed?

I’m determined, but I don’t want to be the blind leading the blind. I don’t measure success by what’s in the bank account, but I realize people need to sell their goods and make enough money that that they would do it again.

That’s a big part of the puzzle for a lot of the exhibitors, isn’t it?  

Well, maybe half-and-half. For some projects, it’s not important to make money. They have followings wanting to come see them, and we’re going to share in that. A publisher or gallery might go into it not expecting to be able to sell high-priced works. People have been managing their expectations in a healthy way. Everyone knows this is the first fair, and everyone — exhibitors and IABF crew — will be working hard to get people there. I think there’ll be a lot of interest just because it’s something new.

The bottom-line numbers are not the only measure of success. That will be based on the exhibitor experience and visitor experience: how exhibitors are taken care of, and how visitors feel about it while they’re there. Those are the most important things — without them, I don’t have a fair. I want it to feel roomy, with enough space to flow through and everyone getting proper attention, not lined up like trade show. The idea is for there to be movement, and a lot of people enjoying themselves. I think it will be like a breath of fresh air.

The Independent Art Book Fair runs at Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, 67 West Street, Brooklyn, September 16 to 18, 11:00-7:00. Admission is free of charge. For more information: www.independentartbookfair.com.

LeDépanneur, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.
LeDépanneur, for sale at the Independent Art Book Fair. Courtesy of IABF.