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Medium Cool art book fair: promoting printed matter

Organizer Ria Roberts discusses the free art book fair happening Sunday, August 11.

Photograph: Ria Roberts Dominica Publishing,�Edition MK,�New Documents,�Swill Children
By Sammy Caiola |

When Ria Roberts decided to organize the first art book fair in Chicago, she wanted a name that would reflect the hoped-for tone—"playful, fun." The Chicago-born fine art student, currently working toward an MFA at Yale, arrived at "Medium Cool," the title of Haskell Wexler's classic 1969 film about a politically tumultuous Chicago summer.

Roberts has spent her own summer curating and organizing the art book showcase, inspired by the NY Art Book Fair and Ooga Booga, a thoughtfully curated store in Los Angeles. Working remotely from the East Coast, she contacted all the Chicago-area friends, artists and designers she could find, at least 75 of whom will gather this Sunday at Prairie Production—a popular West Loop event venue/studio that also happens to be the family business. 

Medium Cool came about when Roberts noticed Chicago's lack of an affordable, communal space in which to show and sell printed matter. "At an art opening, you can gaze briefly at a work that often costs more than your net worth," reads Medium Cool's mission statement. "At a book fair you can buy a book—often from the person who made it—take it home, and read it. You can also place it on your coffee table or lend it to a friend. Books are an interactive technology and book fairs are a social network."

“It’s a social event as much as it’s about the objects themselves,” Roberts told me during a recent phone conversation. (She landed here on Sunday night and has been in an e-mail and planning frenzy since.) “There’s a lot of potential for conversation, to meaningfully digest work, to take things home and share them.”

Up for grabs will be books from local names like Scott Reinhard and the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society, as well as imported prints from L.A.’s Ooga Booga, risography from Michigan’s Issue Press and carved book sculptures from Conrad Bakker, a former professor of Roberts who's coming in from Urbana. Roberts said she was “totally floored” by the excited responses she got from the community.

Two weeks ago, fans of printed matter showed up for the Printers' Ball and for Saturday Strip, a day-long comics extravaganza at the MCA. Let’s hope they do the same for Ms. Roberts’ quick-fix fair, which she has advertised through word of mouth, social media and posters (Chicago-style posters, featuring R. Kelly and a hot dog, natch). Admission to the fair is free, and Roberts is not charging a table fee—all profits go directly to the artists. She hopes the fair will be the first of many, and that it might inspire someone to set up a permanent art book store in the city. 

Medium Cool runs Sunday, August 11, from noon to 8pm, at Prairie Production, 1314 W Randolph St. Admission is free. After-party at Bottom Lounge at 8:30pm.

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