Fairs | May 2022 | Marcia Reed

Postcard from CODEX 2022: “Words on the Edge”

Credit: Karen Eng

During the pandemic, booklovers and avid readers sheltered at home with books as our close companions. Perhaps we even read more, discovering books we’d always meant 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 from April 10-13, was the perfect re-introduction 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, accommodating over 200 exhibitors. The renovated industrial space conveys ideas of innovation and fabrication completely appropriate to contemporary artists’ books, serving as a gigantic multi-artists’ open studio. Displaying new books, CODEX was an informal and welcoming opportunity to meet collectors and bibliophiles who were equally eager to meet the makers and see their books. At the mid-Sunday opening, the line of fairgoers snaked outside the building alongside the wind and the waves on San Francisco Bay.

Founded in 2007 by Peter Rutledge Koch and Susan Filter, the CODEX book fair and symposium is now led 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 marketplace and connecting point, CODEX has become a destination for collectors and a deadline for artists to complete new works, increasing the profile of the art of the book in the twenty-first century. According to Koch, these are high-quality, high-concept books that present their subjects as art and as serious literature. Texts, frequently poetry, are expressed by books’ design and typography as well as the material possibilities offered by paper, print media, and binding. This year’s fair highlighted the 60-some 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 exhaustion of natural resources, devastation of flora and fauna, and damage to indigenous and disenfranchised communities caused by industrial extraction.

Short talks on April 11-12 at the historic Berkeley City Club featured new books shown at the fair. Makers discussed their sources and deep connections to the history of the book, underlining the continuing cultural significance of books. In her Lunar Archive (2022), Mexican photographer Patricia Lagarde was inspired by the drawings for Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius to create new narratives and memories about the moon where she has purchased an acre of real estate for $20. Dublin printer Jamie Murphy discussed Town (2018) with photographs of the city’s street life. He showed a short video about his bookmaking process, and he introduced his forthcoming 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 gratis postcards, broadsides, and brochures as well as new publications including the CODEX 2022 exhibition catalogue, Materialia Lumina, the fair pitched contemporary books to visitors who were ‘just looking’ and to serious collectors alike. Buoyed by successful sales, several printers remarked that they really needed to get back to work in their studios to fill the orders received. Unlike missed opportunities at antiquarian fairs, at CODEX one can often order another copy of a desired book!