When NYC-based arts nonprofit Printed Matter canceled this year’s L.A. Art Book Fair, gallery owner Robert Zin Stark and artist Josh Paul Thomas got an idea.
As Stark explains, “We both have a big love of zines and art books…When we heard [L.A. Art Book Fair] was canceled, we looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we throw our own? I’m a book-aholic and Josh is a maker-aholic. We said, ‘OK, we’re going to do this and make an L.A.-centric version.'”
“And maybe not so hoity-toity,” Thomas adds. “[L.A. Art Book Fair] was getting away from the whole idea of grassroots and small independent zines. It was turning more into a show of galleries.”
Guided by their mutual interests—and a little witchy intuition—the duo concocted something that’s equal parts radically inclusive and niche-as-hell. The first annual Los Angeles Zine and Art Book Bazaar (LAZAABB, for short) specifically welcomes the “grassroots, underground, queer, and the unheard of,” according to the call for participants. Participating L.A.-based artists and zine-makers include Andy Busc, Brenda Chi, Bijou Karman, and Tevy Khou, as well as brands and art organizations like the Tom of Finland Foundation and LACMA Art Catalogues..
Besides the zine and art book publishers who’ll fill Stark’s MaRS gallery and an adjacent Boyle Heights space, a variety of “esoteric practitioners”— tarot and palm readers, clairvoyants, astrologists, diviners, and alchemists—will also have tables. Stark, who’s operated MaRS since 2015, dabbles in astrological charting, and Thomas, whose most recent exhibit focused on “the power dynamics of the phallus,” identifies as a witch.
Converging with a mutual interest in the occult is their interest in L.A.’s queer history. “We feel like it’s an undersung part of L.A.’s history,” Stark says. “People really think about the events that happened in New York and San Francisco when it comes to gay rights, but the Mattachine Society was founded here in 1950 in Silver Lake. It was kind of amazing what those guys did given the conditions.”
When they began organizing LAZAABB, the Tom of Finland house in Silver Lake—which Thomas refers to as a “penis treasure trove”—is one of the first places they went to find creative allies. “I knew if we had them [on board], we’d be able to tap into a group of really cool homos,” Thomas says. They say a “happy surprise” has been the number of queer women who’ve signed up to showcase feminist art books and zines. “I feel like lesbians get left out a of a lot of stuff, especially in Los Angeles,” Thomas says. “So we’re happy [they’re participating].”
Even if the L.A. Art Book Fair returns next year (which organizers have said it will), LAZAABB feels like a fresh and worthy addition to the book fair scene, one that breathes new life into zine culture’s DIY roots. For instance, if artist-makers were unable to afford the $200 fee for a booth, one was provided at a discount or for free.
“It’s a lot of work and we wouldn’t be doing this unless we loved the engagement forming around it,” Thomas says.
Stark adds, “It certainly isn’t for the money.”
LAZAABB, Museum as Retail Space (MaRS gallery), 649 S. Anderson St., Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sun., March 16-18.