By Greg Gibson
In the week leading up to this year's New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, and its two “shadow” fairs, I'd been in a state of preternatural excitement. Two promoters - Marvin Getman of Impact Events Group and John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz – were going head to head for supremacy in the satellite book fair market. First Getman crashed the Bruno's turf by scheduling a rival New York shadow show, then the Brunos trumped Getman by moving their shadow show to a new location just across Lexington Ave. from the big show at the Park Avenue Armory. Cold war ensued. It began to get nasty, and I became increasingly excited by the steady stream of blog fodder. There could not be two more different promoters – in terms of personality, management style, and business practices – than Getman and the Brunos. By last Friday night I'd half convinced myself that their collision would result in a black hole of such magnitude that the entire trade would be sucked behind an unbreachable event horizon, allowing us all to go home and rake our lawns.
But something else happened. Or maybe I should say nothing happened.
I rose early Saturday after a fitful sleep, and walked uptown to the Getman show. I presented my free pass, entered a spacious and well lit room, and started talking to my colleagues.
By their report setup had gone smoothly. Some were having good fairs, some were not. I bought a few things and headed down to the Bruno show. I paid my admission fee (free passes were not widely distributed), entered a somewhat more claustrophobic show space, and began talking to my colleagues. They reported a few snafus during load in, but by Saturday morning everyone had managed to get set up. Some were having good shows, some were not. This pattern held throughout the day. The crowd died off rapidly uptown, but move out was just as seamless as setup had been. There was a shouting match or two downtown, but the adjacent fine press fair (a Bruno innovation from the previous year) added life to the event. I returned to the venue after lunch and there were still customers coming in.
In other words, what we wound up with, despite my feverish prefair puffery was nothing more than a couple of regular old book fairs. No mutually assured destruction, no nuclear holocaust. Just a Getman show and a Flamingo show to go along with the big ABAA-ILAB show at the Park Avenue Armory.
It was refreshing to see that there was enough for everyone – enough dealers to fill three venues, enough books to fill the booths of those dealers, and enough customers (well, there are never really enough) to attend the three fairs and to send everyone (well, never really “everyone”) home happy.
Given this fact, neither Getman nor the Brunos did themselves any favors in the course of their turf battle. There was a lot of sniping, rumoring, and shoving, and much of it was unseemly. At the end of the day (or actually at its beginning), their head-to-head 8 am winner take all confrontation was a disservice to the buying public who were forced to rise early and scoot uptown and down on an already busy weekend. Final score: Brunos 0 - Getman 0.
Ten Pound Island zeroed out, too, in one of the worst New York book fairs I've ever endured. I had some tasty bits of China Trade and American whaling history on offer, but the buying public did not seem interested in tasty bits of China Trade and American whaling history. I wound up selling $4000 and buying $5000 for a total of $9000, which was about what I spent at Donohue's for the week.
European and Asian dealers remain convinced that New York is where the money is. Nearly half of the exhibitors at the ABAA/ILAB show were non-American. And maybe the money is here, but I did not see it being spent on classic rare European treasures. Instead, what seemed to be selling was modern stuff – popular culture of the past century, zines and whatnot.
And I use the term “whatnot” advisedly because, as an antiquarian, I have only the vaguest idea what this stuff is, beyond the fact that beatniks and hippies are involved and it's colorful and often pornographic and generally fun.
Daniel Crouch's $1.26 million Apianus just sits there like the crown jewels, while Ken Mallory has “the best fair I've ever had” selling those zines and whatnot, and dealers like Cassidy and Kahn report strong sales with their fascinating, zany stuff. It feels as if the market is turning away from the antiquarian toward the visual, the pop, the immediate. And maybe this show is morphing into a subspecies of the contemporary art show. And maybe tasty China Trade and whaling bits are dead in the water. And maybe I am, too.
Posted on Bookman’s Log, presented here by permission of the author. Pictures: Bookman’s Log.