Art Fairs: a reflection

How to Navigate, Find Food, and Get Invited to After Parties

Two falls ago, I had the pleasure of going to an art fair in Los Angeles at the Geffen. It was a book arts fair which immediately made me think of something that Harry Potter would go to. It also shocked me. I knew of art fairs or conference and such, but I didn’t realize that there was such a grab for bookmaking. Sure, a lot of people make books but there was A LOT OF BOOKS THERE. Hand-made ones. It made the odd train ride worth it. My ride on the Metro, mind you, and golly was it the experience. Union Station was bustling with people coming and going. There was one man in a suit, briefcase in hand, who whizzed by towards the terminals and I wondered where he was rushing to. No joke. I believe I mentioned to a fellow classmate that I wondered where he was going. Anyway, in the same time that my class was standing the middle of the terminal waiting for the other class to gather themselves, he passed by again at the same speed. And again. It was odd.

But not as odd as the beard-fest that was the LA Book Fair. Beards everywhere! Coiffed and crazy alike. Accompanying the pinnacle of facial hair were pants a touch too tight with rolled up cuffs, oxfords, and messenger bags. I myself had my cuffs rolled up, but not high enough to be “in style” of the moment. I wanted to look cute and appropriate but not like I was trying. Mission accomplished.

Anyhoo, there’s no right way to navigate the book fair. I know. The title makes it seem like I figured out the most efficient way but there’s too many booths to cover in the two hours I was there for. It just wasn’t. The room splits off into different sections. There’s the center where you enter, the left with a second floor loft, and then a hallway at the right with the more “underground” (interpret as you like),“publications” because ‘book’ is too limiting. If you continue in the center, there is yet another wrap around hall that leads to an open farmer’s market, showroom type of set up with loads of booths lining the sides and the middle. So many booths and so many people!

I stayed to the right and the back. The key is keeping a slower, steady pace and staying in the center of the walking area so that you can easily see the content laid out and have the option of gravitating closer to the booths if so inclined. The people working the booth are available and eager to answer questions but most won’t start a conversation beyond saying ‘Hi’ so that you have time to browse the selection. There came a point when I realized that the booth masters viewed me as potential customers and I kind of felt guilty that I didn’t want to purchase anything; at least not then. So I viewed the View Slide Method. When I approached a booth, I would flip through a book and generally check out what they had. In my peripheral, I could see some of the book reps watching me so I would shift my attention to the booth next to me and slide myself over there. Subtle but effective.

In my subtle manner, I slid over to a table displaying a magazine geared towards surfing in New York. Surfing in New York. Now, I was a little surprised. I know there’s water in the state and stuff but…surfing? I didn’t let my ‘what???” emotions show and implored the booth keepers about how they started and what they did. The conversation meandered to me questioning about how they did their magazines and the finish they used and the free posters they had available. It was the same one that I saw hanging behind them on the wall, with a splatter, constellation type of background (double-sided!) with self-contained message [When Is Now Reader], a sort of manifesto referencing ideas from Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking to Christopher Nolan’s film Memento. They then invited me to an after-party the following Saturday at a lounge nearby. And with that, I had a free poster and an invite to schmooze with some hip bookmakers. I of course had prior engagements, but if you are in a similar situation, do take invitations to swanky lounges in LA.

I passed by several booths and spaces, each with a collection of diverse types of books. I stumbled across an alcove showing off a cookbook and what do my eyes reveal to me? Samples from the cookbook. There was a basket of bread, steamy lentil soup, and a light yellow cake. The heavy wood table and benches invited patrons to sit and eat, enjoy the revelry and the food. I glanced around, contemplating whether I should call my fellow classmates to tell them that I found food that they were groaning about. But a cheery woman offered me some soup and I wasn’t about to pass that up. They’re Claremont students – they can figure it out. The soup was delicious and the sourdough bread was soft. Soft! I flipped through the book, perusing, when I was called to meet with someone to take the train back to campus, so I was not able to try the dessert but I can imagine it.



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