Of words and images

This art book publisher wants to convey what artists are trying to say

Ian Sternthal, of Sternthal Books, reflects on the limited Israeli world of art books, as the In Print art book fair opens in Jerusalem

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The In Print art book fair will be held January 11-13, 2023 at Jerusalem's Hansen House (Courtesy Dor Kedem)
The In Print art book fair will be held January 11-13, 2023 at Jerusalem's Hansen House (Courtesy Dor Kedem)

The fourth year of the In Print art book fair at Jerusalem’s Hansen House runs Wednesday through Friday, celebrating the collaboration of text and art in book form.

Among the dozens of participants exhibiting books is Ian Sternthal of Sternthal Books, a local art book publishing company that utilizes print, motion and digital media and usually displays its wares at European book fairs.

Sternthal said while he generally participates in overseas events, he is a fan of the In Print fair, founded by two American-Israelis, Jenna Romano and Danielle Gorodenzik, and he applauds their entry into Israel’s tight-knit art scene.

“It’s dominated by powerful actors and significant money and this fair founded by Jenna and Danielle resonates a lot with my experience,” said Sternthal. “I’ve always been a bit of a misfit, so that was a big reason for me to participate in a scene where most bigger institutions rule.”

The Israeli world of art books could use some change, said Sternthal. For starters, the two major museums, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Israel Museum, don’t distribute their books anywhere besides their museum shops.

“There’s a huge amount of things that I hope to see change here. It’s a little bit like the political world,” said Sternthal. “There’s a few powerful actors who tend to dominate and create in their image. But it’s incredible how many people work with so few resources and how active artists are and how many artists there are.”

Art book publisher Ian Sternthal will take part in Jerusalem’s In Print art book fair at Hansen House, January 11-13, 2023 (Courtesy James Andrew Rosen)

He gets excited about collaborating with artists. Many often presume that publishing a book just requires printing it, but the publishing process is “just where the book starts,” he said. “My role is to think about how to communicate the complex processes artists go through and that we often don’t think about.”

Sternthal, originally from Montreal, Canada, entered the world of art book publishing through a book he worked on while in graduate school, following time he had spent in Israel. He compares aspects of his own experiences “as a gay kid growing up in Montreal” with Theodor Herzl and his book “The Old New Land,” written when the founder of modern, political Zionism felt he wasn’t being taken seriously.

While Sternthal’s initial book was never published, it introduced him to a circle of several dozen Israeli artists, all of whom had their own art book ideas.

He developed Sternthal Books into a niche publishing house that uses print, motion and digital media and Israel’s virtual culture, with a focus on life in Israel. For each art book that he publishes, he also makes a film and published 30 books to date.

“There’s no real art book publisher here, so there’s a hole,” said Sternthal.

While art books are niche by definition, usually promoting the work of one artist and generally printed in small runs, they’re also more relevant than ever, said Sternthal.

The world of publishing has also changed, remarked Sternthal, with technological advances that make it easier to produce books with smaller print runs.

“As we live in a world that is more digital, books become more relevant,” he said. “The whole experience of screens and having very shallow encounters with so many different things… there’s something about holding a book.”

Art books may not be a lucrative industry, said Sternthal, but “people need to tell stories about themselves.”

In Print will take place Wednesday and Thursday in the afternoon and evening and on Friday morning, with book launches, awards and conversations. For a full schedule, go to the In Print website.

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