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Preview: From A(rt) to Z(ines)

By Kathy Chin Leong

Painter, printmaker and illustrator Carissa Potter, whose work is shown here, is among the exhibitors at the upcoming San Francisco Art Book Fair. | Photo courtesy of Carissa Potter Carlson

After a two-year hiatus, a popular homegrown fair returns.

In 2006, when Jamie Alexander stepped through the doors of Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair, he was speechless. The exuberance of attendees, the openness of exhibitors ready to engage, and the range of works from novice to established publishers were refreshing and energizing. “I never saw anything like this. It captured everything good about the community we work in,” recalls Alexander, the owner of the shop Park Life, a creative outpost and art gallery on Clement Street. According to Alexander, the event was “celebratory,” representing all the “good aspects of the art world.” At the same time, he was bewildered. Why didn’t anything like this exist in San Francisco?

Ten years later, he and Luca Antonucci and David Kasprzak, co-owners of Colpa Press, launched the inaugural San Francisco Art Book Fair with the support of the nonprofit Minnesota Street Project. On opening day, attendees queued up in a line that wrapped around the MSP building in the Dogpatch neighborhood. In total, 10,000 people came to the free weekend event to shop and peruse goods from over 80 publishers and art galleries. The fair’s success exceeded all expectations.

This month, July 15 through 17, with a public preview night on July 14, SFABF will resume after a two-year hiatus. It will be the festival’s fifth anniversary, held in the same location. Alexander, who says the fair requires about six months of preparation, anticipates at least 13,000 visitors. As usual, admission is free, and he recommends arriving early.

At this family-friendly affair, themes will explore LGBTQ+ issues, politics, and contemporary art and culture, so it will be up to parents to know what they want to expose their kids to, Alexander explains. Streets will be blocked off with plenty of security. A new on-site outdoor Zine Tent will promote the work of 38 independent publishers.

The event is held inside and outside the Minnesota Street Project building, with this year’s expected to feature more than 100 artists and draw over 13,000 visitors. | Photo courtesy of SFABF

Unlike trade shows or consumer fairs, SFABF features the actual creators, no sales reps. For purchase will be artist books, zines, posters and printed ephemera from more than 100 artists. Then there’s the giftware: tote bags, T-shirts, stickers and other art-related items — nothing made en masse. Over half of the exhibitors come from the Bay Area (including Altman Siegel, located just down the street from MSP, and Oakland’s Awkward Ladies Club), followed by California artists and, lastly, domestic and international vendors (from as far as Australia and Europe). Throughout the weekend, fans can attend book signings, discussions and lectures.

For the first time, the show will be held on three consecutive days, instead of two. The free preview night will offer complimentary refreshments, live music and the opportunity to shop. The festival has become a leading industry show where people network directly with publishers, artists, authors and gallerists.

What will be seen is the art publishing community’s most contemporary ideas, Alexander says. “We don’t get the same people as other fairs, and we are not looking to. We attract people with a passion for creating and appreciating contemporary art and artist publications … there’s a little bit of something for everybody.”

Meanwhile, Oakland artist Carissa Potter is looking forward to exhibiting her work again this year. “The benefits for me have been immeasurable,” she says. “It is so affirming to have people buy something [I made], and I feel very lucky to have a booth.” Coming to the show brings forth a “mixture of anxiety and excitement,” Potter admits. The event is highly curated, so not every applicant gets accepted. While fulfilling for artists such as herself, she says anyone who shows up will get something out of the show. “All I can say is, ‘Come to the fair, it will be fun. I promise!’”

San Francisco Art Book Fair

July 14 (preview), 6–10 p.m.; July 15–16, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; July 17, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco;

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