In October 2022, Emma Honcharski attended Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair, an event that, since 2006, has been a staple of the city’s creative scene. Her friend, Chas Wagner, also attended, and they wondered if it was feasible to host a similar happening in Pittsburgh.
Less than a year later, it’s not only possible, but a reality. The first annual Pittsburgh Art Book Fair — taking place Sat., Sept. 9- Sun., Sept. 10 in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Sculpture — will feature a range of books, zines, and other publications from over 60 local, national, and international artists.
“For the first year, we mostly relied on putting this call out, and then the applications (approximately 120) that came in were pretty organic,” Honcharski, a Wilkinsburg resident, tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “I think a lot of people who are familiar with the format of an art book fair were intrigued, and then also some other folks who have participated in a zine fair or other printed material types of events were drawn to apply.”
Honcharski and Wagner enlisted kindred artists and writers, including Caroline Kern, Mary Tremonte, and Jacquelyn Johnson, to plan and host the event. But the one thing they didn’t do was solicit sponsorships. The quintet curated and arranged the event without any outside funding, pouring their own money into the fair.
Honcharski, a writer and media strategist, notes that the Carnegie Museum of Art has been extremely supportive of the venture, not charging for use of the Hall of Sculpture through its co-presentation model.
“All of this is possible because the support they’ve made available to us,” she says, noting that fair organizers will be looking for financial support for future fairs.
The passion for art books that has been the most significant driver of the event. The books that will be available at PABF are unique, one-of-a-kind volumes, not mass-produced tomes of criticism or retrospectives of individual artists.
Tremonte, an artist, educator, and DJ from Observatory Hill, says that “making these kinds of event spaces for people to come together around the culture of publishing books … is really valuable for building community.”
“I really feel like the artist publisher community is one of my art homes where I signed up with like-minded individuals and a really intersecting group of people with interests that intersect with my own,” adds Tremonte. "And so, making these spaces for people to come together and just have that mix, it’s really rich and really important.”
The fair offers a chance for working artists, whose selling opportunities diminished during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, to reconnect with buyers. The organizers took this into consideration and made adjustments, depending on need, for booth fees, prioritizing BIPOC and out-of-town exhibitors. In addition to local artists, exhibitors from states including California, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Milan, Italy (the sublimely named Homie House Press), are scheduled to attend.
Most of the exhibited work will be handmade, according to Tremonte. And while there are a few pieces that can be purchased for over $1,000, the majority of items for sale will range from $10-50. There also will be tote bags and bandanas for sale, with the proceeds funding next year’s art book fair.
But while the exhibitors want to sell their pieces, PABF’s main emphasis is on community.“For myself as an artist, to interact directly with the audience for my work is really valuable and a unique experience,” Tremonte says. “People attending will get to meet the people who really physically made these books. … The printing and binding of these materials is also a very creative process. The person who is publishing will be there, so that direct interaction, I think, is really valuable and special.”
Pittsburgh Art Book Fair. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., Sept. 9- Sun., Sept. 10. Carnegie Museum of Art. 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. Free. pabf.cargo.site