Bookleggers/The Art Book Review
So how does this work?
Weirdly, art books are rarely reviewed, a conversation that happens if at all on the margins or informally. So, Andrew and I wanted to get the conversation going in the simplest way possible and get books to the people who would get the most out of them, mostly artists but also people who work generally around art, also consequently the most qualified to write about them. We hand off the copies to writers and artists in exchange for a review of the book. We publish the review, they keep the book.
On your website, you say that you deal with “books vaguely relating to the subject of art.” If you held your breath underwater, could you define the parameters of an art book before you passed out?
I used to be a lifeguard, so I can hold my breath for a while, but I still don’t think I could make it through a list of everything we’d consider an “art book” before I passed out. We’re open to a really broad definition of art book which can extend into film, architecture, fashion, music, etc… We invite people to challenge us a bit on what qualifies art, or a book, or in that case a review. A lot of the reviews on the site really push that foundry in interesting ways. In practice, we cover mostly contemporary visual art, but also everything from museum monographs, collections of ephemera, handmade artist books, zines, art theory and so on. I think a very vague definition might be books about art of almost any kind, or made by artists in an art context. That might be just broad enough to cover everything.
A book is whatever an artist says it is. As Rauschenberg wrote in a telegram: “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”
On the off chance that part of your definition included beauty—as in, on some level, art books look good—how does, in the age of Kindle, this aesthetic worth secure or influence the future of this printed form?
Paul Gauguin once said the ugly can be beautiful but the pretty never. William Carlos Williams remarked “No ideas except in things.” We’re open to beauty and to the digital cross-dressing potential of things.
What are three of your favorite art books?
This feels a little like picking a favorite child. Right now, I am really wrapped up in Institutions by Artists from Folio Series. It has a really great essay by AA Bronson, the granddaddy of contemporary art book culture. I love the book I first reviewed for the site, by a young L.A. artist Akina Cox called When I Tell You I Was Born Into a Cult This is What it Means. And lastly… maybe a classic? Society of the Spectacle is a long time favorite that had a huge effect on me when I first read it.
While Miami’s lack of bookstores is stupid and anti-humanist, it necessitates interesting ventures, such as Bookleggers. How is The Art Book Review a product of LA?
In L.A., we’re lucky to have a wealth of art bookstores from Ooga Booga to Art Catalogues as well as a ton of artists thinking about and making books. Despite this, there wasn’t really a publication devoted to critical dialogue specifically around art and artists’ books, (although the Los Angeles Review of Books is great at covering a wealth of topics) so we saw a niche and worked to fill it. It’s been really rewarding working with our community on this project, but we’re excited to be expanding with projects in Miami and Detroit this summer and to engage a new set of artists, writers, and bookmakers about book culture in their neck of the world.