At Printed Matter, the books are still the art. This week, after a long closure, the beloved nonprofit book emporium has reopened in a notedly cleaner and more spacious form at 231 Eleventh Avenue, designed pro bono by Handel Architects.
Founded in 1976, the shop specializes in art books published by established and undiscovered artists. The new space gives more room to display a wider array of works than previously possible. With a focus on the avant-garde and obscure, Printed Matter, which is supported by grants, handles approximately 30 percent of the submissions it receives from publishers and artists.
The term “art book” isn’t easy to define. Max Schumann, Printed Matter’s executive director, calls it a work created by artists where the book is the intended media. “It’s in the spirit of accessible art,” he says. Hypothetically, a book as an artistic medium allows for one’s work to be exposed to more people than, say, a museum, which caters to a singular audience.
In addition to selling books, Matter will now host exhibits in its gallery space, the first of which features the handmade books, stencils, and posters of Paper Rad, an underground cartoon-style zine group that existed from 1997 to 2009. Most of the material has never been shown publicly.
But with the good news comes the bad. According to Schumann, who has worked at Printed Matter for 26 years, the one drawback of the new location is a lack of pedestrian traffic. Though the store gains in retail space, it has lost its proximity to the Highline, which drew it a high volume of window shoppers and tourists. He’s very optimistic, though. “We’re still within the gallery track,” he says with aplomb. “It will be even better.”