SF ART BOOK FAIR SPOTLIGHT: LEE OF MODLITBOOKS
The 2019 San Francisco Art Book Fair (SFABF) is multi-day festival of artists’ publications. This event is free and open to the public and will feature artists’ books, art catalogs, monographs, periodicals, zines, printed ephemera, and artists’ multiples. Learn more about one of this weekend’s exhibitors, Lee Reymore of modlitbooks and his collection of rare & out-of-print artists & photographers books, monographs & ephemera.
Hi Lee. What’s the story behind @modlitbooks?
Like many booksellers I started as a collector. In my case collecting signed first editions of Samuel Beckett. Soon thereafter, some 30 years ago, I started working in the rare book world in New York City. Working at a book search service at first, I had a client looking for her favorite childhood book. The only copy I could find was a worn, dog-eared copy with a child’s name scrawled in crayon. When the client received the book, she called me in tears; it was HER very own childhood copy with her name in crayon! We were both floored by the serendipitous luck of finding her exact childhood copy. I was enthralled to say the least, I thought, “I can do this!” Finding these little treasures before eventually sending them on to a new appreciative home, could possibly prove to be a thing I might want to do with my life.
Later in the Bay Area, I was one of the first employees at book website Alibris and I have worked in the Fine Books Departments of Bonhams and other auctions houses for more than 10 years. I created my business modlitbooks 20 years ago, at the time specializing in contemporary literature. While the name stuck, I now sell more art and photography books and ephemera while still offering important literature like signed works by David Foster Wallace. While in the auction world I may be called upon to catalog a 16th Century dictionary in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; my own interest and inventory is chiefly post-WWII.
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What are some of your holy grail books?
While I am fortunate to have collected over 20 signed first editions by Beckett, one that remains elusive is a very scarce and limited edition of his title Fizzles with illustrations and original etchings by Jasper Johns. I rarely see a copy, and when I do, it is over $30k, ever so slightly out of my price range!
Why are books still important?
I recall while working at Alibris, eBooks were just launching and some then thought the desire for physical books would somehow dissipate and perhaps even disappear forever. This never really happened of course except perhaps for text books. There has always been a desire for physical books, the smell, the feel of the book in your hands, seeing them in perfect rows, fine first editions, the look of the original dust jacket artwork as it appeared when it first hit the stores. While eBooks have tanked, the demand for physical books remains strong.
Which exhibitors are you looking forward to seeing at the SFABF?
At this year’s SFABF I am particularly excited as I am every year to see all my friends and fellow bookseller’s incredibly rare offerings. Rite Editions is releasing a book on art catalogs created by Steven Leiber (1957-2012) a friend and mentor which I’m very excited to see. Steven put the collecting of art ephemera on the map and his catalogs were amazing and internationally renowned productions with a nod to various art movements and historical exhibitions throughout the art world. My colleagues at 871 Fine Arts and 6 Decades always have fantastic and super rare stuff and I always look forward to seeing what they bring to the fair. I am also looking forward to the seeing latest work by our friend Jeffery Cheung at Unity Press!
I loved the collection of LGBTQ art and ephemera you put together for Vacation. Could you tell me more about your collection of ephemera?
While I specialize in Art, Photography and Literature, my partner Randy Walker (aka the creator of Carletta Sue Kay) specializes in vintage LGBTQ ephemera. Presently we have an exhibition and pop-up shop of rare LGBTQ material at vintage clothing shop Vacation at 651 Larkin Street in the TL. This exhibition curated by Randy will be at the Larkin Street store during the SFABF and through the end of July.
You have a lot of rare, serious, and specialized art books. Do you have some sort of background in art or art history?
My background in contemporary art and ephemera began in earnest in New York’s East Village where I was fortunate to know many of the important artists who broke in the early 1980s; Haring, Basquiat and Gonzalez-Torres to name a few. It was a vibrant time in New York to be sure, but also a very sad time as we’d lost so many great, young artists of that generation to AIDS.
Where are your favorite places to buy books in the Bay Area?
Shopping for decent books locally in my field has become more difficult in recent years. My favorite SF bookshop Aardvark Books just closed this year, RIP. Always on the hunt for the needle in the haystack, I’ll still find interesting items at Moe’s and other local stores, but sadly with less frequency than in the recent past.
I noticed your post of your personal copy of Grapefruit by Yoko Ono– you used to source books for her! Could you tell us more about that? Are there any other celebrities that you work with?
Back during my book search service days I provided copies of Yoko Ono’s classic art book “Grapefruit” to the artist when it was long out of print. The copy she signed and inscribed for me is a highlight in my personal collection. More recently I’ve had the extreme honor placing books with internationally known artists, museums and galleries. A new favorite client, a sweet guy with excellent taste, is Tyler the Creator.
Visit modlitbooks at the San Francisco Art Book Fair
Preview on Friday, July 19: 6pm – 10pm
Saturday, July 20: 11am – 6pm
Sunday, July 21: 11am – 5pm
Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street
INFO & RSVP