Printed Matter is a magical store where your traditional notion of an art book goes to die and gets recreated in crafty heaven. You could say that Printed Matter is the fairy godmother to the independent publisher’s world. You could say that and you’d be right. The ruby slippers to the whole operation are the artists who, in 1976, clicked their glittery heels together and wished for a space where art collectives, individual artists, and independent presses could find a safe haven of sorts. Their wish found a space in SoHo, which has since moved to Chelsea, where after years of hard work, has helped culminate the bylines of over 15,000 projects in-store. Totally created by the people for the people.
What you’ll find in Printed Matter is like no other bookshop around, for starters because it’s the largest of its genre. Everything in Printed Matter is filed in a way in a creative yet slightly schizophrenic organizing scheme, where categorizing vibes rules over alphabetization. And I love it just like that. Because without this organization scheme, you wouldn’t be able to stumble upon a book donated from the MoMA teens program sandwiched in-between books about sex. These books are not your typical coffee table art books---they are totally handmade, often ephemera crafts, and about topics as specific as types of fur. Printed Matter’s shelves are always stocked with new pin, book, zine, and t-shirt artists you’ve most likely never heard of, although they do stock some more well-known figures such as Yoko Ono and Sophie Calle (one of my absolute favorite artists who catalogs her performances pieces in beautifully bound books). But after spending but a few seconds walking in through the door, you’ll realize that there is something there for everyone. I know for myself, even their $1 cartoon zines and Barbara Kruger postcards are something to look forward to with my babysitting money. And when I was there, I bought the Guerrilla Girls’ latest book, The Guerilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to Western Art, a must-read for any female who owns, makes, or appreciates art and its history. Everything is super niche-y in a good way in that nowhere else can you find a bookstore that would highlight the weird crap that rolls in their door. Speaking of which! While I was there, Todd Oldham’s assistant came in to drop off all of these boxes books he was donating. Which is another huge part of Printed Matter. They are a completely non-profit organization, devoted to giving back to the DIY movement. However, their vitality is based on community giving. Most recently, with Hurricane Sandy, they lost 9,000 books which were stored in their basement. And now, more than ever Printed Matter is looking for donations. Looking at the photos of Printed Matter immediately after the hurricane was incredibly devastating, but it’s amazing to see how quickly they’ve gotten back up and running.
But Printed Matter is more than just a book store. It’s also a community space—whether in times of a zine reading or cleaning out a flooded basement, it’s sustained by the voices of its people.
Barbara Kruger + Scorpio Rising postcards on the rack.
On this shelf: featuring work by Destroy All The Monsters
MoMA P.S. 1 book fair zine
Printed Matter, 195 Tenth Avenue; New York, NY, 10011; 212-925-0464
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