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For the international art world, Miami might be primarily associated with the frenzied first week of December, but the organisers of the biannual artists’ book fair Tropic Bound plan to add to the city’s cultural calendar with the fair’s first edition, opens at the rooftop garden of Paradise Plaza on 16 February.
“We wanted to offer a break from the dreary winter and remind [of] Miami’s broader offer of a cultural experience,” fair co-founder Ingrid Schindall tells The Art Newspaper. The owner of the local printmaking and book arts studio IS Projects, Schindall is one of the three founders of Tropic Bound along with University of Miami Special Collections director Cristina Favretto and Girls’ Club Collection director Sarah Michelle Rupert.
The fair’s inaugural edition, which includes around 60 exhibitors, coincides with other art fairs and festivals such as Superfine Art Fair, Art Wynwood and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, but the founders’ broader goal is to foster collector interest in a persistently overlooked medium.
“We have the country’s largest book fair in this city [the Miami Book Fair], and after running into each another at different art events in December, we discussed the possibility of bridging two fairs Miami is known for: art and books,” Favretto says about their conversations steps four years ago. “We also felt compelled by our proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America, where practices such as bookbinding, paper-making and self-published poetry have long histories,” adds Rupert.
Although the pandemic delayed their plans to launch the fair, the organisers maintained their trust in artists’ books’ overlooked potential. “You can appreciate a Rothko, but you cannot touch its brushstrokes unless you own the painting,” Favretto says. “But an artist’s book is available to touch and engage with, and this experience is something that makes sense for a larger group of people around the globe.”
Their ambitions received a major boost thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 2019 as part of the organisation’s Knight Arts Challenge programme.
The fair spans a broad range of materials, geographies and price points, catering to both for avid and novice collectors. Fairgoers can acquire an artist book in the $10 to $25 range at the local seller Dale Zine’s stand or they can examine a manuscript or a rare book with a five-figure price on the stand of New York-based dealer Arthur Fournier. Exhibitors from North America account for a large portion of the inaugural fair’s roster, but there are plenty of book-makers bringing their work to Miami from further afield, such as the Egyptian artist Islam Aly—who makes sculptural mixed-media books with both Arabic and English texts—and Santiago, Chile-based artist Isabel Fernández Echavarría and her Ojos Negros Impress workshop series.
In addition to hosting an international contingent, the fair aims to emphasise Miami’s booming artist book and printmaking community. Two shuttle tours on 16 February will take visitors around town, including the Cuban Heritage Collection and the Special Collections at the University of Miami on the city’s south side; up in North Miami, the shuttle will make stops at Little Haiti’s Emerson Dorsch Gallery and Extra Virgin Press. Visitors “will have the opportunity to shake hands with book makers and see first-hand what is going at the studios”, Schindall says.
An opening day symposium will feature book artist and printmaker Tia Blassingame discussing book art and accessibility, in addition to a panel with six speakers from different South Florida organisations, including John Cutrone of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and Stephanie M. Garcia, the head of Special Collections and Archives for Miami Dade-Public Library System.
“The most common thing people hear at art fairs is ‘don’t touch’, but both new visitors and seasoned collectors at Tropic Bound know they can experience a book work through touch,” says Rupert. “They can feel the artist’s traces of putting the stitches and binding the book, which is a transformative experience.”
- Tropic Bound, until 19 February, Paradise Plaza, Miami Design District