Publishing ups and downs

Keanu Reeves rushes in (to publishing art books):

Where angels fear to tread (a great magazine editor runs screaming from the field):

As you may gather from the links above, I’ve subscribed to the New York Times! My friends know because I’m sending them articles like the ones above daily. Or posting them to Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve long thought the NYT is amazing. The best of the best. I thought that because every time I picked up a copy, which was very rarely, I would find at least two stories that were right up my alley; great reportage on things that matter to me, like art, art books, museums, cultural matters generally, politics (on the progressive or social side). I often felt it uncanny how the NYT would have an article so bang on. I felt tuned in, and turned on.

Now, reading the headlines daily (I get their Daily Briefing to my email inbox and then go to the full “paper” for the rest of the major stories and usually a quick scan through the Arts section) I find it much less interesting. There’s still something special about the NYT. It’s just a little less impressive as it’s becoming more familiar.

I guess the big news for me is really not about the NYT but that I’ve finally accepted that to be well-informed today, you have to get the news online, and for the most part, if you’re serious about it, pay for it.

Sort of… I see the Globe and Mail has instituted a paywall. I’m not going there, yet.

Closing the book on Inspire! The Toronto International Book Fair

Here’s a great way to show a panel of authors, adjacent their books.

If this particular panel isn’t looking too cheery it could be because their host, the Toronto International Book Fair, held for the first time last fall, was in the process of imploding around them. Now it has been announced that it won’t be back.

“The big players should have jumped on board,” said Sandra Kasturi,  participating poet and co-publisher of fantasy and genre fiction ChiZine Publications, “I feel like the publishing industry is frequently hide bound and reluctant to embrace anything new, especially if it’s not an instant million-dollar success.” –

Here’s what another commentator had to say:

“A larger expansion of the vendors and publishers on offer will be needed in order to sustain interest. Organizers intend to focus more on the international element of the fair next year as well.

“The downside to attending the event for multiple days is that after touring the show floor to see all the publishers and exhibitors, there isn’t much else to look at. There needs to be a larger amount of exhibits or activities to see and do to engage visitors. In addition, the set up of the various stages needs to be re-examined, as often throughout the day activities from one stage interfered with interviews and readings on others. Given that the Convention Centre is a large, open space, the sounds echoed and traveled across the show floor disturbing audiences and authors. All elements will likely be improved for next year. Organizers may also want to consider moving it to a different time of the year where the event calendar is not already so crowded.” –

It was a big ambition, the kind of thing we need in today’s lachrymose economy.

But the plug has been pulled. Which means no opportunity to fix and grow. Too bad:

Where was the art community? What about hooking it up with the also struggling Art Toronto fair, already gearing up for 2015, or the thriving NY Art Book Fair, embraced by the likes of The New Yorker?

Or the critical-alt communities?

Or even, how about 12 days out of doors!?

Inspire! Book Fair by the numbers (info from Metronews, link above)

  • 400 authors, including big names such as as Margaret Atwood
  • 200 exhibitors
  • 3 day event
  • $1 million reported original budget
  • 50,000 original attendance goal
  • 20,000-25,000 actual attendance

The brief obit in Publisher’s Weekly.


Bookmobile book

The book was all about mobility. Bringing knowledge to the people. Today books are available everywhere, yet there remain challenges; not all books are equally popular and some audiences remain stubbornly out of reach.

Enter the Bookmobile.

Projet MOBILIVRE BOOKMOBILE project was a touring exhibition of artists books and zines, housed in a 1959 Airstream trailer, that traveled across the US and Canada from 2001-2005.

Now the founders have regrouped to make a BOOK about the project in true D.I.Y. fashion. They have launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to print it. Pre-purchase a copy of The Bookmobile Book for $35 until February 19th!

The Bookmobile Book is being designed by Cecilia Berkovic, edited by three of the project’s co-founders: Courtney Dailey, Onya Hogan-Finlay and Leila Pourtavaf.

I caught up with Onya Hogan-Finlay by Skype from LA and asked her a few questions about the project.

RL: The Bookmobile was a very successful project. What do you hope to accomplish that the original project didn’t already?

OH-F: The motivation behind the Bookmobile was to share the experience of having a real book so it felt consistent now to want to produce a real book. We met people who had been involved in the original project during the art book fair in L.A. and that just re-ignited the passion we felt at the beginning.

RL: Art books struggle in the marketplace, or perhaps it’s better to say that the market is small though dedicated. Won’t the Bookmobile Book be speaking only to this relatively closed art world audience?

OH-F: Sure the art community is insular but the original project broke through a lot of barriers and we are in the process of getting back in touch with schools, community centres, artist-run centres as well as public galleries and museums that the Bookmobile visited in both Canada and the US and the response has been fantastic. A lot of those places were off the beaten track. There’s a lot of excitement. Donations have been wonderful, particularly in the States where people seem to understand better that cultural projects can’t happen without their individual support.

RL: Do you have any thoughts about reviving the Bookmobile?

OH-F: No, it was a moment and the relevance isn’t there now. People access books very differently today.

RL: What about other publishing projects?

OH-F: Today publishing online, for example through blogs, has more currency. My art practice is socially oriented and for a living I am teaching.

The Bookmobile Book will feature essays by Jon Davies, Andy Cornell & Lauren Jade Martin, Isabelle St. Amand and John Hartmann with artwork by Ginger Brooks Takahashi (as seen in the Alien She exhibition). Nostalgic diary entries, hilarious comics and fantastic photographic contributions from the project’s Tour Guides will also be included along with images and selections of bookworks and zines from the BOOKMOBILE’s collections.



Using Kickstarter to fund a book is a brilliant idea: for years I have been saying that the best (increasingly only) way to publish books is to pre-sell them. If you know your audience and are able to reach them, then they should be willing to put up the money by pre-ordering.


The investment, and risk is all in the marketing work instead of in the creation and production work. Maybe that’s not where creators want to put their efforts, maybe the risk/reward equation doesn’t really work there.


Mrs. Delany’s invention: collage, aging and the artist’s life

Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.
Mary Delany collage of a Magnolia grandiflora.

There are so many good reasons to buy this book, which came to us via Virginia Eichhorn of the Tom Thomson Art Gallery. (Thank you!) It is beautifully produced, on a fascinating if somewhat esoteric topic (collage), addresses in several ways the important role art plays in people’s lives (for artists but also  non-artists, the seasons of an artist’s career, art in relation to life-experience and aging) and is well-written despite being a bit quirky (speculative, almost fictional while also being a biography).

It is exactly the kind of book that can change how you think and inspire new directions.



An Artist (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72

By Molly Peacock,

Illustrated. 397 pp. Bloomsbury. 2011 $30.

reviewed in the New York Times

reviewed in the Globe and Mail

[buy it in the Amazon]

Featured Books Archive

Co-published by the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario, Tactile Desires: The Work of Jack Sures, is sumptuously illustrated with the complete works from the traveling  exhibition of the same name, most recently at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. The book features essays by Sandra Alfoldy, Virginia Eichhorn, Julia Krueger and Matthew Kangas.

ISBN 9780929021607

Softcover with French flaps, 216 pages, full colour

Read the review here.

This book is not just very hard to find online, I can’t find it anywhere. But I do have a number of copies on hand if you are interested: 44.95 CAD plus shipping. Please enquire via the contact page.

Maxwell Anderson’s view of 2012: museums (and publishing)

Reproduction of Picasso linocut from the Remai collection.
Picasso, Portrait de jeune fille d'après Cranach le jeune II, 1958, linocut on paper, Remai Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Evaluations of the previous year at the turn of the new year are generally popular, refreshing memory and promoting sober reflection. 2012 was, after a promising start, a miserable year by all accounts, including that of Maxwell Anderson, as expert and independent a thinker on the subject of art museums as one can find in the US of A.

Writing in the December issue of Artforum, Anderson observes an untoward over confidence and release of extravagance after years of measured caution and terrified parsimony brought on by the financial crisis of 2008. Anderson decries the financial short sightedness of museums, whose boards churn through directors while ignoring their fundamental missions and chasing trivial (and largely unattainable) goals like attendance to justify their institutiions.

Anderson usefully lists the criteria by which he believes boards should be evaluating their museums’ work: “the extent to which they care for our cultural heritage past and present and advance research, understanding, and awareness of the value of aesthetic endeavor.”

Anderson spends a lot of column inches on the most sensational news of 2012, how Jeffrey Deitch was challenged after his appointment to the directorship of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art when artists on his board abandoned ship after Deitch sacked veteran curator Paul Schimmel and dumped already scheduled projects for his own. Anderson’s piles on with the others, but his complaints sound shrill. If museums are stuck in various malaise, who better than Deitch, with his outsider status and dealer experience, to throw open the gates of privilege or try to develop more open and interesting relationships between museums and the market?

Acquisitions are another thing that make headlines in the museum world. Anderson notes a few of  what he calls marquee art acquisitions, transformative gifts and bequests, including 405 Picasso prints donated to Saskatoon’s civic gallery by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation, a gift substantial enough to bring the respectable, regional Mendel Art Gallery (now renamed the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan) to the attention of the international art world.

Most interesting are Anderson’s compliments to the city of Detroit for instituting tax-based (mill rate) funding for the Detroit Institute of Arts, following a grassroots campaign that argued the  extrinsic benefits to the community, including the multiplier economic effect, programs for the disabled and safer streets. Solid municipal support like that is more common here in Canada but needs to be even more universal, and at consistent funding levels.

In conclusion, Anderson appeals for more thoughtful and substantive support for art museums’ intrinsic activities: research, collections care, publishing and conservation. But looking hard at those programs may turn up problems just like the equivocal attitude to museum leadership and the preoccupation with attendance, like the looming collections crisis: vaults over-crowded with indifferent works acquired in boom times, with no room left, or budgets to support, the art being made today, or the on-going problem of donations that look good in annual reports but saddle institutions with costs they can ill-afford, in perpetuity.

Similarly, publishing continues to be fraught with contradictions, as Anderson notes earlier in the article: Why do museums persist in spending lavishly for exhibition catalogues that sell few copies to only the very narrowest segment of museum patrons?

There are answers to that question (e.g. publishing contributes in a fundamental way to the integrity of an institution by manifesting its commitment to, and capacity for, top notch research), and to  others that address the core of the museum. Overall, Anderson’s year-end review calls for a refocusing on things that really matter. He has created a useful agenda to guide discussion and work in 2013.


Maxwell Anderson is a highly respected thought-leader within the art museum community,  former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, and currently the director of the Dallas Museum of Art.






What $700 art books tell us about the Canadian book market

Amy Verner, writing in the December 19th Globe & Mail (What your $700 coffee-table book really says about you), calls attention to the fact that the market for big and beautiful art books is undiminished despite retractions in the economy and the seemingly-ever-collapsing book market. In fact, it may be growing.

Of course, she is talking about the world of international publishing, not our domestic one where even the most sumptuous, prestige art books are rarely if ever priced over $100. After the automatic discounts Amazon applies automatically to even new books, the prices of Canadian art books appear slightly ridiculous. Take just three examples:

ISBN 978-1551522951, 176 pp. Arsenal Pulp Press

Polaroids, a huge (34 x 44 cm), full colour, coffee table book of preparatory pictures taken by the internationally recognized Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs, beautifully designed by artist Michael Morris,  is available for the preposterously low price of $37.62 from Even the publisher’s retail price of $60 is probably less than half what a book of this quality about an artist of Lukacs calibre is worth, and should command in the marketplace.

Another fabulous book, published  on the occasion of a museum exhibition of the  work of fashion designer Jean Paul Gautier,  exquisitely produced (including an amazingly clever, optically vibrating plastic sleeve) by the very talented team at the Musée des beaux-art de Montreal, comes in at under $100 if ordered from Amazon, despite the fact that Gautier is an international celebrity and this was a world-premier event, his very first recognition by the art museum world.

Only when we get into the realm of “historical treasures”  does price even begin to reflect value, or investment, e.g. the catalogue raisonée of David Milne is $360.36 on, discounted egregiously from a still very reasonable $572.00, a price that barely reflects the estimated $1 million invested in this project (which produced, in addition to the catalogue raisonée, a CD version, and a companion biography written by David Silcox).

Jean Paul Gautier, ISBN 978-1419700026, 424 pp., co-published with Abrams

Are Canadian art books priced so poorly because Canadians are a naïve and unassuming people afraid to stand up and be counted? Or is it because the costs of production are covered by government subsidies regardless of sales? Or is it that Canadian publishers do not have the distribution reach and marketing resources to really compete in the international marketplace?

These are questions that deserve answers.


New catalogue of 2012 Canadian art books

ISBN 9780968211557, softback, 200 pages, co-published by Coach House Press and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

Canada’s public galleries are using a new service called Catalist for promoting their books. A spin off from Booknet Canada, Catalist allows subscribing publishers to create their own online catalogues. Designed as a shopping tool for retailers and libraries, the site gives an excellent overview of the remarkable art book publishing being done in Canada. Visit the site to see for yourself.

Illustrated at left, a 2012 book about the literary post-punk short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, a collection of stills, award-winning scripts, creative writings and critical missives by scholars, video legends and animal experts weighing in on why Vey Duke and Batttersby matter. Edited by Mike Hoolboom.





Learn more about Booknet Canada and Catalist.

John Chamberlain and the Rand Corporation

John Chamberlain Rand piece, signed original typed and bound by the artist.

John Chamberlain.
RAND Piece.
Los Angeles: Self-published, 1971.
35 8 1/2 x 11 pages in tranparent orange folder.

Most people know John Chamberlain for the exquisite crumpled cars parts he produced for over 50 years. I discovered this very unusual, and rare, work of his on the Web entirely by accident about eight years ago, amazed by its conceptual, relational quality. I thought about it again recently in the course of my ongoing research on art + economics, asking whether, if artists worked more “normally” like, and with, the rest of the world, they might be better understood and financially supported. Chamber’s Rand Piece and all it represents about Chamberlain’s participation in the historic L. A. Country Museum’s Art + Technology program suggests otherwise. In fact, it shows just how fraught the place of artists and art can be if they are put in close proximity with the things they want to call as they see.

“The RAND Corporation was considered by many, especially on the left, to be a sinister organization populated by the best deep-thinkers the military industrial complex could buy. It is in this context that Chamberlain’s piece resonates. His approach, which was intentionally confounding, emphasizes the limits of technology and human understanding and thus frames the RAND Corporation’s blandly authoritative intellectualism as hubris.”

Pamela Lee in her book Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, [MIT ISBN:
978-0-262-12260-3, now out of print] explains:

“An especially telling case involved John Chamberlain’s residency at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica. Established in 1948, the RAND Corporation was the prototypical postwar think tank: a nonprofit organization devoted “to further and promote scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and security of the United States.” Following its own bulletin, the Corporation works toward these purposes through an extensive program of research and original investigation in the physical and social sciences. Although the program places special emphasis on interdisciplinary, policy-oriented studies, it includes theoretical research within such diverse fields as economics, mathematics, geophysics, nuclear physics, electronics, computer science, aeronautics, astronautics, linguistics, sociology, political science, medicine, education and many others. In the past this program has been oriented mainly towards scientific analysis of important problems of national defense.

“RAND’s collaboration with Chamberlain was unhappy to say the least. Chamberlain was approached by Tuchman as late as 1969, but the artist was eager to participate in the program because, as he reasoned, “I’m initially interested in anything I don’t know about.”

Like many of his peers, Chamberlain’s preliminary meetings with industry proved unproductive. He discussed the possibilities of a film project, perhaps with Ampex, RCA or CBS, but when neither these nor other proposals seemed viable (one of which included an “olfactory-stimulus-response” multiple), he was ultimately paired with RAND, then already working with Larry Bell.

“Chamberlain’s project for RAND exhibited little of the high-tech paraphernalia of many other artists involved in LACMA’s program. Granted office space and secretarial support by RAND, Chamberlain’s proposals—cutting off the phones for one day, for example, or dissolving the corporation itself—were of a rigorously conceptual (that is to say, unfeasible) bent. Such ideas met with little excitement or, rather, acceptance, by many of RAND’s denizens, and the distaste was reciprocal. As his residency continued, Chamberlain discovered his RAND colleagues to be impossibly ‘uptight’ and ‘very 1953’ and resistant to the line of questioning his proposals suggested. As if to interrogate his own technological sophistication, the artist posed a series of queries in keeping with the concerns of the corporation itself. ‘What do I know about weather modification?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘What do I know about cloud formations? What do I know about the war in Vietnam? What do I know about the psychology of reflexes in New York City when faced with a police car?’

Instead of pursuing such topics, Chamberlain saw the use value of exploiting humor in his ‘collaboration,’ tweaking the rituals of bureaucratic culture in the process. For three days he screened his film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez during the company’s lunch hour. With Warhol ‘Superstar’ Ultraviolet and poet Taylor Mead romping about in trees in various states of undress, the movie seemed to confirm for RAND’s employees the worst clichés about artists in general. Following the screening, Chamberlain distributed a cryptic memo to all consultants at RAND in a gesture that at once pays tribute to and lambastes the endless paper trail of the corporate environment (figure I.4). The mimeographed sheet reads: ‘I’m searching for ANSWERS. Not questions! If you have any, will you please fill in below, and send them to me in Room 1138.’

“The answers spoke volumes to the divide between Chamberlain’s conceptual leanings and RAND’s technological methods. Clearly the  exercise had won Chamberlain no supporters; it fact, it produced the exact opposite effect. “The answer is to terminate Chamberlain,” one rejoinder states, and that was the least of it. There was no shortage of vitriolic responses, a partial list of which reads:

You’re sick!

While you were up in the Tree in your love scene, you should have STAYED.

Quit Wasting RAND Paper and Time.

The Air Force needs thinkers—where do you fit in?

The world has moved up a level. They now call stag movies “ART.”


An artist in residence is a waste of money.”

Above extensively quotes: Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, by Pamela M. Lee, pages 17, 18, 19, now out of print, but fortunately available on Google Books.


This artist’s book is for sale here in the new Reading Art shop on Abebooks.


Thirty-five loose 8 1/2 x 11″ bond sheets printed offset, recto only, in a translucent fluorescent orange plastic report cover with a blue plastic clamp spine (as issued), no illustrations. “Rand Piece” is the printed form of John Chamberlain’s contribution to the historic 1971 Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition “Art and Technology”. It consists of excerpted responses by employees of the noted Southern California think-tank The Rand Corporation to a questionnaire submitted by the artist. The piece was mounted on the walls during the exhibition, with Chamberlain subsequently self-publishing an extremely limited edition of these responses to be distributed to the Rand participants.

For further details, see the catalog “Art and Technology” by Maurice Tuchman. Edition size is not known, but surviving copies are truly rare. A most handsome example of this elusive conceptual document whose plastic binder remains remarkably fresh BOLDLY SIGNED by John Chamberlain in purple ink on the title page at the time of publication. (from Abebooks)

More about the Art + Technology project on the Fondation-Langlois website: Tuchman, Maurice. — A report on the art and technology program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967-1971. — New York: Viking, 1971. — 387 p. — ISBN 670133728.

“RAND Piece was mounted on the walls during the LACMA Art and Technology exhibition and Chamberlain subsequently self-published a very small edition of them to be distributed among the RAND participants. Surviving copies are truly rare.” [source]

Craft vs. art: the scapegoat, inclusivity and the work of Jack Sures

Tactile Desire: The Work of Jack Sures book cover
ISBN 9780929021607 – Mackenzie Art Gallery and Tom Thomson Art Gallery, 2011, 216 pp.
This is a short review, the first of what I hope will be many, of a beautiful book produced to accompany the retrospective exhibition Tactile Desires: The Work of Jack Sures.

Co-published by the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario, the book features essays by Sandra Alfoldy, Virginia Eichhorn, Julia Krueger and Matthew Kangas, and pictures of every work in the exhibition in full colour.

To focus on only one of the essays, Timothy Long’s approaches the everlasting (still) debate about craft vs. art, in an unusual way. Art relies, like religion, he says, on scapegoating, excluding others as non-believers. Art is historically tied to religion, devotion and the experience of the divine in a way that craft never was. So, while the avant gardes have tried to reveal, mock, dismantle, and thereby overcome that religious bigotry – think of Picasso’s goats or Rauchenberg’s – craft, has, to its advantage, never had to force a separation; it is already integrated into daily life, more readily accepted and accepting. For those of us with a soft spot for craft, this could well explain why.

The other essays trace Sures’ career and place his work in historical context, showing how he stands on the cusp between previous generations of arts and craft revivalists inspired by Bernard Leach and the generations Sures himself taught and influenced, who went on to create conceptual and funk ceramics.

Overall, the book is good read, accessible and thoughtful. And it is also beautifully designed, with French flaps, by Adams + Associates.