In a technology-driven world, what is the status of art publishing? A trip to the Los Angeles Art Book Fair provides insights on the digital promises and confirms the longevity of the physical object.

While I gently saunter through the Los Angeles Art Book Fair organized by Printed Matter, I navigate my way through more than 250 international presses, booksellers, antiquarians, artists, and independent publishers gathered at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.

I’ve always been an avid book collector and after working on The Book Lab exhibition, part of the Futures of the Book series in Fall 2013, and then focusing on contemporary art books for the CODEX exhibition, I was curious to deepen my knowledge.

My questions going in: How is digital publishing perceived in the arts?  Will I stumble on groundbreaking publishers and artists innovating the art book of the future? In a technology-driven world, how will the book evolve as a vehicle to express art?

Los Angeles Book Fair

In the sphere of art book publishing, the artist book typically refers to the physical experience an individual has with the work. In his book about post-digital print, author Alessandro Ludovico expresses the necessity to integrate the medium into the thinking process. Print “is more than just a carrier for things to be shown on some display; it is also the display itself,” he notes.

When I bump into Alexander Bühler at the Fair in LA, I ask the Swiss artist and founder of a/b Books about his perception. He mentions the necessity to keep the physicality of the object in mind, as the book is as much an art object as the images and concepts it contains.

So, if print is the display and physicality is important in art book publishing, how can art books go digital?

Japanese Book

“How can you digitally recreate a japanese paper feeling?” Alexander Bühler

Art goes digital, but slowly

If the essence of the object remains strongly attached to the book, there is still no denying that the digital world is pushing for greater use and connections between platforms.

Many artists and publishers I meet express the notion that digital publishing is successful for the printed word but does not work as well for art, unless printing by the reader is a requirement of the art itself.

While few of the booths at the Fair feature e-publishing, the majority of publishers and artists acknowledge the coexistence of both the print and digital worlds. So far, art magazines remain the strongest in maximizing the capabilities of both formats by offering high quality digital content.

SUP Magazine, for example, is an annual print publication documenting contemporary music culture. They offer readers online content not found in print such as music and videos. Their goal is to convey a complete experience documented in print and online.

I’m also struck by the work of Library of the Printed Web that reflects on our digital culture by collecting screen capture or image grab to generate printed matter, thus recreating the analog experience. Paul Soulellis, the Library’s founder, presents Printed Web #1 as a print experiment questioning “new web-to-print artist’s practice” featuring 64 pages of artists using web images.

SUP Magazine

‘SUP Magazine combines print and digital to offer the user a full experience

Democratizing art online

Art has proven relevant in addressing societal issues through aesthetics. Similarly, the digital era fosters access-for-all. It follows that, through digitization, art for all can have a broad impact.

Images and ideas are now shared. Every artist and publisher has a webpage. Winfried Heininger, the founder of Kodoji Press, points out that digital publishing can not only reduce waste but also increase the diversity of points of view.

Museum collections make art accessible through Open Content policies, such as the Getty Museum. Platforms like Triple Canopy’s new publishing paradigm Alongslide enables collaboration between artists, writers, designers, and engineers in improving the relationships between digital interfaces and printed pages. The aim is to simultaneously publish using diverse platforms and means of communication, increasing the sharing of ideas as well as the variety of formats.

The book is not dead!

The longevity of the book is probably the most reassuring thing I learn over the course of the weekend. I also notice that art publishers are on the verge of embracing digital technology but that they aren’t quite there yet.

I don’t stumble upon the next big thing in digital art books, at least not this year. The electronic tools still seem to need improvement and flexibility to thrive in the artistic realm. Artists making books remain somehow skeptical about how the experience changes without physicality.

As technology drives more and more of our daily lives, however, there is an undeniable shift happening. I believe there is no such thing as a duality between print and online, rather a complementarity and a hybridity working together to offer better visibility.

Books will go on, but there will invariably be a greater diversity of channels for art, and therefore a diversity of audience, participants, and new voices. The combination of arts and technology in publishing holds promises of greater forms of creation and production. 

Read more about projects that fuse art and publishing online in our post on The Book Lab. And join the conversation on this topic live on February 25 at the CCA’s Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts featuring leaders in art publishing from Fillip magazine, Art Practical, Triple Canopy, and Motto.

 Have examples of innovative uses of digital publishing in art? Please share!