Visual Arts

Miami artist launches EXILE Books, a roving artist book shop, to fill community void

The neon sign for the EXILE Books pop-up shop.
The neon sign for the EXILE Books pop-up shop. Sarah MK Moody

South Florida’s arts and literary communities are on a rapid ascent. But one thing the region lacks is a space dedicated to artist books. Local artist Amanda Season Keeley hopes to change that with EXILE Books, a pop-up artist book shop that will move around the region during the coming year.

Typically printed in limited editions, artist books are not the art books you might place on the coffee table that merely reproduce artworks in another medium. An extension of the artist’s craft, artist books are treated with the same care and attention to detail that the artists apply to their regular work.

Currently at its inaugural stop at Locust Projects in Miami’s Design District, EXILE Books will take up residency at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Miami Book Fair International and the Bas Fisher Invitational contemporary art space in downtown Miami. More locations are promised.

Keeley says she hopes to raise awareness about what she considers an accessible medium, one that pushes the boundaries of both art and books to appeal to both art lovers and bookworms.

“Artist books are a really beautiful way to look inside an artist’s mind in a way that’s accessible to a mass audience,” Keeley said.

The pop-up shop concept allows EXILE Books to keep costs to a minimum by using existing space at a local venue. Each iteration of the pop-up will be different, as Keeley intends to curate the selection of books and bring a unique slate of programming to each site, including lectures, workshops and artist collaborations.

Keeley, who returned to her native Miami recently after 16 years in New York, worked there in managerial and fund-raising positions at Printed Matter Inc., which bills itself as “the world’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the dissemination, understanding and appreciation of artists’ books.”

Because of her ties with Printed Matter, Keeley was able to develop a partnership with the organization that gave her open access to the inventory they distribute as well as the books they publish. In addition to works by Printed Matter, she has a wide variety of books from local and national artist book publishers. Local presses involved include [NAME] Publications; artists involved include Adler Guerrier and Nicolas Lobo. She also has sought out artist books from Latin America.

Keeley, 40, sees EXILE Books as an extension of her artist practice, and that is evident in the exceptionally designed furniture used in the space at Locust Projects and ready to move to the next venue. Inspired by minimalist artist Donald Judd and the Memphis Group, an Italian design collective from the 1980s, the furniture is beautifully Spartan with flourishes such as saddle leather on the sling lounge chairs and bright prints lining the wood furniture.

Although the furniture is stylish, the pieces were created to be modular, adaptable and mobile. Keeley added wheels and metal handles similar to portable flight cases and road trunks similar to those she encountered when she toured with Yoko Ono while managing the artist’s studio.

Artist collaborations are an important component of the pop-up, and Keeley has drawn interest from major international artists to do just that. Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, among the most prolific artists working today, donated one of his text works for Keeley to use at her pop-up. Titled Books Do Furnish a Room, the text is derived from a novel from Anthony Powell’s A “Dance to the Music of Time” series.

In addition, Yoko Ono’s “Wish Trees” — trees to which visitors tie written wishes — will make an appearance at the Miami Book Fair International pop-up.

The iteration of EXILE Books at Locust Projects, a nonprofit alternative art space at 3852 N. Miami Ave., is the result of a collaboration with artist Sarah Crowner, who invited Keeley to work with her on the “Sunday in the Park” exhibition currently on display. The pop-up will close Oct. 9 with a performance by the Peter London Global Dance Company.

From there, Keeley will move to Books & Books, taking over a room in the west wing of the store at 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, from Oct. 15 to Nov. 20. The partnership marks the first time the independent bookstore chain has given a whole room to an outside group. As part of the pop-up, there will be a series of panel discussions with visiting speakers including Max Schumann, executive director of Printed Matter, and Ruth and Marvin Sackner, founders of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.

Books & Books founder Mitchell Kaplan said the partnership is a natural fit for the store because the chain has specialized in the arts and his clientele is always for looking for new finds.

“We love to cater to the browser, someone who is looking for a sense of discovery, and this selection of books is devised for just this sort of person,” Kaplan said.

After Books & Books, EXILE Books will have a dedicated space in the Artists’ Book Lounge at the Miami Book Fair International, in an indoor storefront space just off the busy street fair’s pedestrian promenade.

While the Book Fair has featured artist books in the past, it hasn’t done so for years. But incoming director Tom Healy wanted to prioritize the genre this year, and made it a priority to host an EXILE Books pop-up.

“There’s something special about feeling the weight of a writer’s or an artist’s imagination in your own hands. And there are so many beautiful books being made across the world that we want people to discover when they come to Miami,” said Healy, who is also executive director of the Center for Literature and Writing at Miami Dade College.

Coinciding with Art Basel, EXILE Books will open Dec. 4 at Bas Fisher Invitational, 100 NE 11th St., which will host an art show curated by Keeley and Pérez Art Museum Miami curator Katerina Llanes featuring artists Eve Fowler, Sam Gordon and Lizzi Bougatsos.

In January and February, the pop-up at BFI will host a series of music events in partnership with local music store Sweat Records.

Keeley is also launching an artist book publication titled Exile Editions. Its first publication will be an artist book with local artist Naomi Fisher that acts as an extension of her recently completed art project at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and will be released in 2015.

EXILE Books is a finalist for a Knight Arts Challenge grant, and a number of prominent local institutions have reached out to Keeley about the possibility of bringing EXILE Books to their locations.

Keeley says the outpouring of support is the result of pent-up demand for a resource like EXILE Books.

“I started asking people is this something they think would work, if it would be successful, is there an interest, is there a need and would it help the community and across the board? Everyone said yes.”

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