THE PAPER PUSHER
A Conversation with BETH FIORE
By Tyler Malone
Beth Fiore, the founder and creative director of Art Station, a multi-platform special events company that creates first rate pop-up art exhibitions and events, has a new project she’s spearheading–and it’s right up my book-loving alley. She’s on Smallknot trying to get a library / reading room set up in Brooklyn. She’s asking for assistance from the community, to get Paper up and running, which will then turn around and assist the community.
Doing online research is quick, simple, and convenient. The internet has definitely made our lives easier in that way. And yet, I feel like something is lost to my generation. If information isn’t somewhere accessible online, many of my peers just assume it doesn’t exist. While the internet has an immense amount of information, and though it is expanding every minute, there is and likely will forever be lots of information in old archives and dusty books that may never make it to the information superhighway. For that reason alone, having physical spaces where people can go to research and be surrounded by actual books (some of which have information not online) is a very important thing. The benefits of the geographical aspect can’t be stressed enough. Getting out from in front of the screen, and interacting with the physical universe, going to a reading room or library, is beneficial in more ways than one can imagine. Scientific studies have shown that doing research in person rather than online feeds the brain in a different, and likely more nourishing, way.
So what Beth Fiore is doing is crucial. I wish there were more people like her, and more spaces popping up around New York City like the one she’s trying to create. If she can get the funding, Paper will be a space for learning, a haven for the art-obsessed, and a meeting place for the artistic community.
Tyler Malone: Art Station has had quite a bit of success, so congrats on that, now tell me about this new project you’re working on, Paper.
Beth Fiore: So I’ve worked in the art world for the past 7 years. I’ve worked for some really interesting dealers, I did an internship at Christie’s, and I’ve done a lot of research at the Frick. When doing appraisals, for that you need a lot of these rare books–to assess if the work is real, to see where it sits within the oeuvre of the artist. With doing that I’ve seen more art history, visually, than when I studied it in undergrad, or even when I studied it at NYU.
I’m also just a huge library whore. I’ve spent copious hours at the New York Public Library. I even kind of dated a guy just because he lived by the NYPL, it just made it really convenient. But the lending library is just kind of disgusting. It’s not very pleasant to use at all. There are homeless people in there, the books are really oily, and you feel like you definitely need to detox after spending a day in there mulling over the books–which I have done, many times. And then the huge Humanities library on 42nd & 5th, across the street, if you wanna really do research there, it’s just an ordeal. The pages take for ever to get the books, and you can’t really browse the stacks. For someone who’s really thirsty for knowledge, and looking for specific information, a good place to research just doesn’t exist.
TM: So what is your plan?
BF: Well, I’ve been collecting art books in New York City for a while now, and I’ve been carrying them around with me from apartment to apartment. I have around 2,000 right now. They’re currently housed at a friend’s retail space in his upstairs storage, taking up all of his storage. (He probably wants to kill me.)
I just feel this would be such a great service to artists. I don’t think there’s anyone mentoring artists in this way. It’s such a sad time in our country when post-college there is just no community for people. I don’t think that the answer can be found digitally–especially in art. Art books don’t translate to the digital format very well. Many of my books can’t currently be found online, and some may never be online.
TM: I also really like the benefit of having a space to go to in physical reality, not just some pseudo-space in cyberspace.
BF: Yeah, and it’d be a place that’s not an institution. That’s what my ambition is.
TM: Do you have any special ideas or things you’d like to do with the project?
BF: Well, syllabi and reading lists have always been important in my life. I was trying to get into Columbia when the recession hit. At the time I was in correspondence with Mark C. Taylor, the head of the Department of Religion there, and he gave me this amazing book list. It changed my life. He told me to read these books if I really wanted to get into the grad program. I didn’t get into the grad program, but I treasure that book list.
So I want to have curated book lists, like the one from Adam Fitzgerald that we currently have in our inaugural exhibition at Gamine & the Gallery. Adam Fitzgerald is a poet and protege of John Ashbery, and he has in his little, tiny West Village apartment probably like 3,000 books. I am so envious! In some places the books are like four deep. I was over there recently to get the books that we’re using in the current show, the curated selection, and there were books in his fucking shower. No kidding, he had a huge box of books in the shower because he just has no more room. Books are everywhere. His closet is full of books. The only place he doesn’t have books is above his bed because he’s afraid they’ll fall on him in his sleep.
So, yeah, I want to have curated shelves. Oh, and then lectures. I want to bring in people that are really relevant and really current.
TM: So how are you deciding who will curate book shelves and who will come and lecture?
BF: I suppose when it gets underway the first task will be to get a staff of people to work on programming. We would try to unsilo the disciplines–that would kind of be the impetus. Adam [Fitzgerald] knew that I wanted him to curate something that was kind of all over the place, and that eclecticism will be the one driving force. We want to have a breadth throughout the humanities.
As far as the lecturers, I would definitely want instructors and lecturers that would really be able to mentor the members.
We haven’t really gotten that far yet though because we need to just find a home for the books first, a place to go, and set it all up.
TM: Okay, so on that point, where do you think Paper will be?
BF: Well, there’s one location for sure that I can have, and that’s in my friend’s retail space. He’s willing to give me the back half of it. It’s huge. He doesn’t need the entire store, so I can take like 2,000 square feet of it, and build it out. That’s an absolute. I can have that space and work with it. Or there are other options. So it will depend on a number of factors.
TM: What kind of books will you have at Paper?
BF: Artist monographs, artist books, rare art books, art catalogues. I already have a ton of rare art books, and I would acquire even more. I do have some literature and philosophy, and want to grow in that direction as well. And that wouldn’t be difficult to do. I have connections now with Sugartown Spoonbill, Book Thug Nation, The Strand, Melville House, etc. So that’s what I hope to have–and hundreds of periodicals. I think literary and art zine culture is so interesting.
TM: So what’s your final plea for getting people to help out in establishing Paper? How do you stir people from their apathy to donate and be a part of this?
BF: Well, first, I have all these phenomenal books, some that are very rare, that need a home. And I don’t know what their fate will be if Paper doesn’t happen, because I can’t continue to house them, but I don’t want to break up this collection. There’s somewhat of an apathy for some of this stuff in our digital era, but I think if there was a centralized place where some of this really great stuff was located, it would excite people.
There are lots of digital art resources, but I want to create this amazing place in Brooklyn to come and research and learn and explore. All these digital resources can grow their web presence and house all sorts of information in cyberspace, but they’ll never catch up to what is already in existence in the analog world. So a place that houses physical books in an actual location that you can enter and be a part of is a cool thing.
And the greatest aspect of my drive on Smallknot is that if you help and donate you get to be a member!
Beth Fiore is the founder and creative director of Art Station.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Beth Fiore
Design by Marie Havens
Beth Fiore, 2012, Photography Courtesy of Beth Fiore