Bright Young Booksellers: Arthur Fournier

Our Bright Young Booksellers series continues today with Arthur Fournier, proprietor of Arthur Fournier, Fine and Rare, in Brooklyn, New York.

AF IMG_9574.jpgHow did you get started in rare books?

I've been interested in the ephemeral traces of alternative and outsider cultures ever since I learned about dada and surrealist pamphlets through Reinhold Heller's undergraduate art history courses at the University of Chicago. The typography, the humor -- it just struck a chord. At that age, though, I was too intimidated to ask a librarian or faculty member to show me an original. But I would sometimes lurk just outside the door of Regenstein Special Collections and try to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside.

Another developmental landmark for me was working at the Hyde Park Art Center, when the institution was sort of in-between directors and I proudly served as the "exhibits coordinator" for its 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd. location in the mid-1990s (I was basically a glorified art handler and office assistant to Jaqueline Terassa, Eva Olson, and, later, Chuck Thurow.) One day, I found a neglected trove of Hairy Who ephemera stuffed in a broom closet. It pretty much blew my mind. Eva Olson set aside the best items for HPAC's archives and said I could organize a sale of the duplicates, which we did. It was so cool. At that time I was also scouring the Canal Street flea markets, South Side thrift shops, and estate sales for hip-hop and jazz LPs, books, photographs, and ephemera. I'd sometimes find copies of the Seed, or Nation of Islam or SDS material alongside the occasional Sun Ra or Art Ensemble record. This was before eBay went mainstream, so being a 'picker' felt like panning for gold. My interest in underground materials sort of snowballed from there. 

It wasn't until I moved to New York in 2001 and began working in the bookstore at Neue Galerie under Faith Pleasanton and Bruno Kreusch that I actually handled rare books, per se. When the shop first opened, there was a small locked case reserved for valuable, out-of-print books. Most of them had been sourced from Wittenborn. Faith trusted me to organize the shelves on one of my first days there and I remember handling a copy of Malevitch's Die Gegenstandslose Welt with great reverence. We also had an original Die Träumenden Knaben by Kokoschka. It was electrifying.

After a few challenging years trying to find my way in mainstream retail bookstores and the publishing industry, Peter Bernett (of F.A. Bernett Books) and I were introduced through mutual friends. I think it was the summer of 2007. I was delighted when he told me about his business and I probably expressed my enthusiasm for what seemed like the coolest job in the world. We got to know each other over drinks and dinners when he would visit New York from time to time. On the day after Obama was elected President, as I recall vividly, Peter rang me up and offered me a job. Just a few days later I got on the train and made it up the coast in time to work his booth at the 2008 Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, as a kind of trial run. By February of 2009 I had packed my kit, moved to Boston, and joined his firm. I was there as a full-time staff member for almost five years.  Peter and Larry Malam patiently taught me how to catalog, buy, and sell books. For that I am deeply grateful. It was an extremely fun and rewarding place to work and, overall, an incredible experience. 

Funnily enough, the first time I ever actually set foot inside of Regenstein Special Collections was on a sales appointment for Bernett.

When did you open Fournier Fine & Rare and what do you specialize in?

In the fall of 2013, the woman in my life told me she'd be leaving Boston to start her MFA in fiction that following year. We chose to stay together, and I left Bernett to make that possible. While she was doing research in the Middle East that winter, I travelled a bit and used some of the money I'd saved to acquire stock, a lot of it related to protest movements or underground music. My first solo rare book show was Printed Matter's L.A. Art Book Fair in January 2014. It was a reasonable success, and it showed me a way forward. My partner started her MFA in New York in September of 2014, so we moved into an apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where I started my company. We've been there ever since.

Fournier Fine & Rare sells books, serials, photographs, manuscripts, and archives in all fields and genres. I specialize in primary source materials related to the transformative cultural movements of the 20th century, modern conflicts, disruptive technologies, music and the visual arts. My clients include libraries, museums and private individuals.

Recent highlights have included complete-run punk fanzines from New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. Hip-hop music, dance, and visual culture are very important for me. I've also handled pamphlets and magazines from Mujahedin groups in Central Asia, dating to time of the war against the Soviets. Right now, the print history of networked computing is a big topic of interest. And fashion, film, food, and design round out the list.

Tell us about your work as an agent for the placement of archives:

At Bernett I developed a fondness for cataloging large collections and major archives. It's hard work, but I find it deeply satisfying when a significant site of cultural production can be preserved intact, rather than splintered into pieces via the auction market. Often, the whole can be greater than the sum of it's parts. Over the past two years I've had the good fortune to work on projects concerning the archives of Arthur Russell, Ilhan Mimaroglu, Bill Adler, Janette Beckman, and Michael Holman, and several others.

Printed Matter's Art Book Fairs in New York and Los Angeles have also been majorly important for me in this respect. Jordan Nassar and Shannon Michael Cane have totally re-imagined what it means to put on a book fair and they deserve tremendous recognition from the rare book trade. I feel privileged to take part in the NY and LA Art Book Fairs, so I try to represent as well as I can, every time. Sometimes that means selling rare books and ephemera, but on occasion, I get to curate special exhibitions related to archives and collections. 

My favorite exhibition projects so far have been with Maury Stein and Larry Miller, to showcase the Blueprint for Counter Education in the boiler room at PS1 in Autumn 2015, and the massive installation we mounted for the L.A. Art Book Fair in February 2016, to shine a light on Brian and Nikki Tucker's monumental L.A. hardcore archives, and their underground publishing projects as FER YOUz.

What do you love about the book trade?

My practice is probably as mutant you can get and still call yourself a 'rare book dealer,' but I love the centuries-old chain of tradition and evolution the book trade encompasses. Bookselling can be an exquisite aperture into any topic of personal interest, and I've used it as a lens to learn more about some pretty amazing people and places. If that gets to continue for a few more decades, I'll be a happy man.

Describe a typical day for you:

Right now I work at home, so it's up early and triage the email before breakfast. Followed by cataloging books or project work on archives until I break for lunch and an afternoon walk. Then there's unstructured time to pack orders, meet with clients, scout catalogs, or do research until dinner. I usually try to reserve my evenings for time with family and friends. Though sometimes there's an email to write or a deadline to meet and you carve out an hour or two before bed.

Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?

There have been so many. I love having handled Man Ray's 1929 for example. Also, complete runs of certain fanzines, like New York NOSlash, and Sluggo. But if I had to pick just one for the purposes of this article, it would be the notebooks of Arthur Russell, with some of his original manuscript lyrics for the track known as That's Us / Wild Combination. He worked it out visually, as a kind of word collage, in this careful handwriting. Anyone who loves his music will understand how special that is. The great thing is that entire archive is now at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where it belongs to the people of the five boroughs, and soon will be accessible to researchers from around the world.

What do you personally collect?

I only really collect on a topic when I'm trying to understand something and I need to live with it for a while. Right now that includes French graphzines from the 1970s and 1980s, like Bruno Richard (ESDS), Bazooka, and Ti5. I have a growing stash of materials from the Parisian post-68 / proto-punk gray area between underground comics, bande dessinée, and fanzines. I'm also a huge fan of Sh?ji Terayama, and will probably buy whatever I don't already own of his book works from the 1960s-1980s - Japanese readers of Fine Books & Collections, please quote me! Eventually, however, it will all get sold as stock and I'll move on to something else...

What do you like to do outside of work?

I'm a music and art nerd. So I enjoy record shopping, going to concerts, museums, gallery exhibitions, and seeing movies. But making elaborate dinners with people I love is probably my favorite thing. Walking and cycling around Brooklyn and the greener places outside of the city. Taking the Amtrak back to New England to see friends in Cambridge and Vermont, or flying home to the Twin Cities to see my family and the people I grew up with. Flea markets still rate, but that's probably work related, somehow.

Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?

Rupture and continuity. It's such a great moment to be trading in the sum total of human knowledge, culture, and self expression that got put down on paper during the last 500 years of the print era. The whole sweep of it, from highbrow to lowbrow. It isn't the easiest way to turn a dollar, but if that's all I cared about I'd probably be in the real estate business. And if I were any good at it, I'd probably be blowing most of my earnings on books and underground magazines. So I consider myself lucky.

Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?

An updated list will be available on my website when this article goes to print. My next show will probably be the 2017 LA Art Book Fair, unless I opt to do a pop up salon, like the Salon Society events Fabiola Alondra organized in Brooklyn Heights last year. The quasi-public, quasi-private invitational sale is becoming a nice part of the New York book selling ecosystem, and I hope the trend continues. There are also a few great archives I'm working on that I can't tell you about yet, but that's going to be a big part of my winter and spring...

Image credit: Janette Beckman, New York, 2015.