Located in the heart of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood is a delightful little stop for fans of all sorts of publication design, Printed Matter. As a not for profit bookstore specializing in art books, zines, counterculture ephemera and events such as publication exhibitions, Printed Matter provides a unique look at the boundaries of untraditional publications.
The outside of the store is unapologetic and bold, a large critique on President-Elect Donald Trump hangs prominently against the backdrop of stacks and tables of books.(For those interested, it coincidentally happens to be one of the featured free posters of the month) The hard to find doorway, blended into the chaos of the storefront if you enter at night, invites you into a small entryway decked out in promotional flyers for upcoming exhibitions, naked yoga sessions, support groups, and revolution workshops. If you can picture the Feminist bookstore from Portlandia, you can picture Printed Matter and dozens of similar stores across the city.
One of the most interesting parts of the store is its comprehensive selection of zines. Zines are urgent, low-tech, and personal publications made by designers, artists, writers and more to express concepts and releases it in an accessible way without worrying so much about large budgets, distribution channels or formalities. These publications are bare bones urgent messages packed together in creatively designed and carefully economical solutions. There are many zines to chose from, with topics ranging from Feminism, New York, a celebration of low-riders and even a series of poems to
Stacks and Stacks of books followed by tables upon tables of books line the store. It’s not a traditionally cozy environment though, instead, the store feels chic and spare, like a reclaimed warehouse. Concrete floors, white walls and industrial elements alongside airy lofts create an elegant sort of appeal to the store where the natural colors of the books come alive.
The design of the books are perhaps the most interesting part of the adventure that is Printed Matter. Books and other artifacts in this store are among some of the most celebrated and in style artist books, design books, counter culture books, magazines, and experimental publications. For a typographer, there’s endless inspiration to be had from glancing at the pages of the various books, with some ranging from classical and elegant to avant garde and unreadable. For a designer, judging a book by its cover becomes valid as an exercise in exploring often ridiculous publications riddled with esoteric themes.
The appreciation of these publications extends to also include a general influence that they can have on a designer. The design is risky, it’s unapologetically firing shots everywhere and wanting to create an unmistakable response from its audience. To summarize, you won’t find any of these publications at your local Barnes and Noble. After looking at these publications, you are influenced. Whether you are inspired to take action, excited to rethink the conventional rules of design, or even disgusted or shocked at the contents within, you aren’t going to visit Printed Matter and leave without an impression.
Adjunct to the main store is a small design gallery of publications elegantly presented in a simple white glass case with typography set on the wall. The space is small and narrow, brightly lit and seemingly both elegant yet low-tech. There is an appreciation to the exhibition of publications in the gallery which you would encounter in larger-scale design galleries and exhibitions which lend yet another delightful quirk to the space.
For designers, the store is a treat; for members of subcultures, the store is an oasis of expression; for an average passerby, the store is a glimpse into a world fueled by creativity, rebellion and a desire to fuel a greater good. For all purposes, a trip to Printed Matter is recommended, if even to just chuckle at the placement of raunchy and explicitly adult literature next to glossy Kenzo magazines in limited edition cases.