Printed Matter’s Phil Aarons Is an Artists’ Book Maniac

Phil Aarons.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Phil Aarons, the president of the board of beloved New York non-profit Printed Matter, discusses his love for all things, well, printed with W Magazine. Aarons made his wealth from real estate but his true love lies in print, and he describes his book collecting habit as a “mania and a passion.” He and his wife, Shelley Fox Aarons, are major collectors of contemporary art and sit on several boards of cultural institutions (he at MoMA PS1; she at the New Museum).

Founded in Tribeca in the 1970s by Sol Lewitt and Lucy Lippard, Printed Matter became a place for any object that lands somewhere on the spectrum between multiples and monographs—essentially, anything in book form made by an artist. Decades later, Printed Matter hosts two annual art book fairs, one in Los Angeles at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the other at PS1 in New York—its ninth edition is slated for September 26–28.

“It feels more like a party, and there are more young people,” Aarons says of the fairs. As for Printed Matter’s Chelsea storefront space, which now stocks over 12,000 objects in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, he tries to maintain a very open and relaxed atmosphere.

“A young artistic person can just do it and put it out there, without a gallery and without expensive materials,” he tells W. “They’re not precious. People throw them away…I love the unmediated quality between what an artist or a writer wants to say and the product he can hand out or put in the mail or give to a friend. You don’t see that anymore.”

Aaron’s own taste in art ranges from the art world heavyweights to the abstruse. In his private collection, you’ll find Martin Kippenberger and Marcel Broodthaers along with Mark Gonzales, the skateboarding champion-turned-artist.

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