Tropic Bound: Miami’s Newest Art Fair Is All About Books
Tropic Bound, Miami’s first international biennial artists’ book fair, is at Paradise Plaza in Miami’s Design District from Thursday, Feb. 16 through Sunday, Feb. 19. Above, a book from Tom Virgin of Miami’s Extra Virgin Press. (Photo courtesy of Tropic Bound Artists’ Book Fair)
There are art books. You may have some lining your shelves right now, from museum show catalogs, unplanned purchases from a bookstore sale cart or random used collectors’ items.
Then there are artists’ books. It’s an important distinction. Rather than documenting the work of a certain artist, an artist’s book is a work of art all on its own.
“It’s intended as an art object, not necessarily a book that is explaining art,” explains Ingrid Schindall of IS Projects, a local printmaking studio in Little River. “Sometimes the books will have words in them, sometimes they won’t, sometimes they’ll take a traditional book form that you would expect a book to take, and sometimes they’ll be totally strangely shaped, or open in a weird way, or maybe they won’t even open at all.”
From canonical modern artists like Paul Matisse to midcentury pranksters like Guy Debord and Asger Jorn, plenty of artists have turned to the book as a means of expression. Now, Miami is about to get a page or two full of book art with Tropic Bound, the first art fair dedicated to the artists’ book.
The fair kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 16 with a “Welcome Day,” featuring symposiums, shuttle tours and a welcome party, and then the fair begins in earnest on Friday, Feb. 17 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 19. The multi-day event, at Paradise Plaza in the Design District, is free and open to the public, but a ticket is required for entrance.
Tropic Bound is the brainchild of three women involved in the arts in South Florida: Cristina Favretto, head of special collections at the University of Miami Libraries, Sarah Michelle Rupert of the Girls Club Collection in Fort Lauderdale, and Schindall of IS Projects.
All three had been acquainted from various arts events, including similar artists’ book fairs across the country, but one day in 2019 they all came to the same realization: Why doesn’t Miami host a fair of its own?
“There are book fairs and there are art fairs, but at a certain point, the people that are primarily book artists started saying, ‘We should have one of our own,’” says Favretto.
The group applied for and received a Knight Arts Challenge Grant to help put the fair on, juggling the preparations with their own full-time jobs and families. Though the pandemic caused the original debut date of 2022 to be pushed back a year, the trio says the pause gave them more time to plan and prepare.
Schindall compares it to Beyoncé pushing back her now-famous Coachella headlining show after becoming pregnant with twins.
“I’m kind of hoping we can hit that note,” she jokes. “(It) gave us a lot more time to cook and stew and figure out, exactly how does this dream look?”
When they finally got up and running, the response was even greater than they could have imagined. “We received way more applications than what we could house in our first year,” Schindall says. Eighty-five percent of the fair’s exhibitors are from outside of Florida, with some from outside of the United States. Publishers and vendors from Latin American countries including Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile, as well as the United Kingdom and even Egypt, will set up shop.
Local love is also on display. Thursday’s shuttle tours will showcase some of Miami’s most inspiring literary spaces.
A Little Haiti-Little River tour will stop at print shops including IS Projects, Extra Virgin Press, Emerson Dorsch Gallery, and Dalé Zine shop, while a Coral Gables trek will include a visit with Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International, and a look at the UM Special Collections hosted by Favretto.
All this will be conducted from a home base in the Design District’s Paradise Plaza event space, which the organizers say was chosen to show off Miami.
“We always saw this as an opportunity to do our hometown proud,” Rupert says. “We knew we didn’t want a tent. We wanted to really ground Tropic Bound as a Miami-based fair.”
Beyond that, however, book art can be seen as a community that extends past fairs and typical art world glamor. Tom Virgin, owner of Extra Virgin Press, and a book and print artist himself, is excited about the prospect of making even more connections at the fair.
“It’s a community of people that still use traditions that are still very effective,” he says of his fellow printmakers. “To have Ingrid and Christina and Sarah bring these people to Miami is such an incredible opportunity . . .it’s kind of like a gig fest of gig fests.”
That sense of connection and tangibility is part of the appeal for Favretto, too.
“People like going to bookstores and browsing, people like galleries and museums. Well, here is an event where you can actually touch the art, you can interact with it, you can meet the artists, have conversations,” she says. “I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met at these fairs that have become friends. That doesn’t usually happen at a lot of art fairs.”
Schindall shares the sentiment. “The nice thing about having a collection with artists’ books is that a book is, by definition, interactive; it’s activated by the viewer/reader, and so having them in your collection means that the experience of viewing them, by yourself or with another person, is an interactive experience. It engages and it brings you in to have a conversation about what’s happening there.”
WHAT: Tropic Bound
WHEN: Shuttle tours depart from Paradise Plaza at 10 a.m. and return at 2 p.m., symposium, 4 to 6 p.m., free welcome party, 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16; fair hours are noon to 6 p.m., Friday, Feb. 17, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
WHERE: Paradise Plaza, Miami Design District, 151 NE 41st St., Miami
COST: Free. Fair ticket required for entrance. Shuttle tours ($50 with a $4.67 fee), symposium ($10 with a $2.24 fee, exhibitors and students admitted free).
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