During the pandemic, book lovers and avid readers have sheltered at home with books as close companions. Maybe we even read more, discovering books we had always intended to read. But after more than two years, we wanted to talk about books with friends and colleagues, in person, not on Zoom! The CODEX Book Fair, held April 10-13, was the perfect reintroduction to our social lives with books, their authors, artists and printer-publishers.
The fair was held at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California. Built as a Ford Motor assembly plant in 1931, the pavilion is now an event space. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it has the dimensions of an airplane hangar, able to accommodate more than 200 exhibitors. The refurbished industrial space conveys ideas of innovation and fabrication entirely appropriate for contemporary artists’ books, serving as a gigantic multi-artist open studio. Showcasing new books, CODEX was an informal and welcoming opportunity to meet collectors and bibliophiles who were equally eager to meet the creators and see their books. As it opened mid-Sunday, the line of visitors meandered outside the building alongside the wind and waves on San Francisco Bay.
Founded in 2007 by Peter Rutledge Koch and Susan Filter, the CODEX Book Fair and Symposium is now run by Executive Director, Inge Bruggeman and Managing Director, Dina Pollack. The biennial event focuses on contemporary artists’ books and fine press publications and is an increasingly international forum with satellite events in Mexico, Australia and Europe. Both a marketplace and a meeting point, CODEX has become a destination for collectors and a deadline for artists to produce new works, thus enhancing the visibility of book art in the 21st century. According to Koch, these are high-quality, high-design books that present their subjects as serious art and literature. The texts, often poetry, are expressed through the design and typography of the books as well as through the material possibilities offered by the paper, the print and the binding. This year’s fair highlighted the sixty exhibitions, publications and events in 2021 sponsored by the CODEX Foundation for the special project EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss. The project focuses on current issues of natural resource depletion, devastation of flora and fauna, and damage to indigenous and disenfranchised communities caused by industrial extraction.
Short talks on April 11 and 12 at the historic Berkeley City Club featured new books featured at the fair. The creators discussed their sources and their deep connections to book history, highlighting the books’ continued cultural significance. In her Lunar Archive (2022), Mexican photographer Patricia Lagarde was inspired by Galileo’s drawings Sidereus Noncius to create new stories and memories on the moon where she purchased an acre of land for $20. Dublin printer Jamie Murphy discussed City (2018) with photographs of life on the city streets. He showed a short video about his book making process and he introduced his next book, CARBON. Addressing environmental concerns, it is a magnum opus for which he printed an impressive folio prospectus in deep black ink that evokes the Dark Deposit and its deadly impact on the Earth’s atmosphere.
With free postcards, plates and brochures as well as new publications including the catalog of the CODEX 2022 exhibition, Materialia Lumina, the fair offered contemporary books to “just looking” visitors and serious collectors. Building on the success of the sales, several printers pointed out that they really needed to get back to work in their workshops to fulfill the orders received. Unlike missed opportunities at antique fairs, at CODEX you can often order another copy of the desired book!