Ulises – Art, Books, Talk and Performance in a Book Store
Mari is excited about Ulises, the new book shop and cultural center opening in North Philly. Find out why! – Artblog Editor

Ulises table at the Parking Day event at Reading Terminal Market.
Ulises table at the Parking Day event at Reading Terminal Market.

Book reading is alive and well

Reports of the death of books and bookstores in America by the wireless hands of Amazon.com are premature. More books are read, bought, and published than ever before, and the number of independent bookstores has grown steadily over the last five years. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants in–he is opening brick and mortar stores in locations across the US stocked with hard and soft back books that appeal to the specific likes of its neighborhood.

Bezos did not kill the book market in America. Today more people in the United States are buying more books of every kind, except e-books, than they did in pre-Amazon days. The paperback remains the most popular reading choice by far (more than 75% of the book market according to Pew Foundation and Penguin Books studies), and hardback book sales outpace ebook sales.

The tactile and visual pleasure of holding a book and turning its pages remains irresistible to book-readers, young and old. When we can touch a real book we do, but when we cannot, we reach for our mobile phones.

Pushing the edges of Philadelphia’s cultural community

On Saturday, November 12, Ulises, a honey of a new independent bookshop dedicated to artist books, independent art publications, and publishing and art activities will open its doors at 31 E. Columbia Avenue (the corner of Columbia and Front Streets), with a stocked reading room, more than 300 titles for sale in its shop, and a bit of hoopla.

The Ulises founders.
Pictured: (left to right) Sam Beebe with Ulises founders, Lauren Downing, Kayla Romberger, Nerissa Cooney, Ricky Yanas, and Gee Wesley. Photo by Ricky Yanas, with permission.

Ulises is named after Mexican artist Ulises Carrion (1941-1989) and inspired by the bookshop he founded in Amsterdam in 1975, Other Books and So. Other Books and So (1975-1978) became a vital cultural center for exhibitions, collaborations, performances, and the making and publishing of artist’s books, and later, an archive. In Carrion’s conception, an archive is a work of art that has no set time limit.

Ulises’ founders aim for a lively, fluid cultural center, and have set no time limit for their venture. They have 3 months of rent in hand, a flexible plan for the first year, a mind-blowing stock of publications hand-picked over the course of many, many months—most on consignment, but some paid for in part out of their pockets. A first-rate furniture maker built stunning moveable bookshelves, and artist Tim Belknap, Ulises’ landlord, built the store with help from friends. (Belknap is co-curator, with Ryan McCartney, of the Icebox Project Space at Crane Arts in North Philadelphia.)

The founders of the new bookshop each bring different expertise and rich networks to Ulises. Nerissa Cooney is a graphic designer at MANA Contemporary, Jersey City, and a founder of “Feast Mass,” a Boston-based micro-granting program and recurring dinner that raises money for creative community projects. Lauren Downing, a Curatorial Assistant at the Philadelphia ICA, was at one time an Assistant Director of Ion Gallery of Art and Design at Penn State University, and, also worked as Senior Designer at Urban Outfitters. Joel Evey, Freelance Art Director of Need Supply, works in art direction, print, web, product, and identity design. Kayla Romberger, is an artist/curator/organizer who teaches courses on independent art publications and ephemera at the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia ICA Spiegel-Wilks Curatorial Fellow Gee Wesley’s desire to be part of a community, book-focused art project took hold while he was an artist-in-residence at Asian Arts Initiative where he co-created the project and program series, “Living Library.” “Ricky” Yanas is an artist, educator, and independent curator based in Philadelphia. Ricky is an active member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, an artist-run gallery operating in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York.

Location of the new Ulises shop.
Exterior of building before construction, corner of E. Columbia and Front, where Ulises will be. Photo by Rich Yanas, with permission.

Like its namesake poet, conceptualist, artist, and philosopher, Ulises (pronounced Ulysses) will function as a bookshop dedicated to artist books and independent art publications with a reading room and function as a curatorial platform for performances, films, audio and visual exhibitions, and other means of intellectual, cultural, and artistic exchange. Every three months, beginning in December, Ulises will select a theme and invite a contributor or collaboration to address that theme with publications, presentations, performances, workshops, lectures, artworks or collaborations, and add to the shelves of the reading room books that relate to the theme.

The shop will be the only place in Philadelphia to buy the 300 titles they will be selling, including those of Sternberg Press, Spector Books, Printed Matter, and D.A.P. Esteemed Duchamp whizz, gallerist and publisher Francis Nauman has contributed publications to get Ulises started, as has Bogotá Columbia’s Galeria Casas Reiner.

Ulises Carrion.
Ulises Carrion.

Ulises Carrion–writer turned communication and distribution entrepreneur

“I began as a man of letters, but a time came when I realized that this arena was too confining for me and I could not continue writing stories and tales in the traditional sense. Now language continues to be my raw material but nothing more than that.” – Ulises Carrion

Before Carrion settled in Amsterdam in 1975 where he lived for the rest of his life, the artist was a respected writer, particularly known for La muerte de miss O, published in 1966, and De Alemania, published in 1970. He had experimented in the spatial, structural, and visual potential of text, pages, and other properties of books and discovered publishing techniques that enabled free texts and images to be produced using mimeograph, offset, and flat press from Beau Geste Press, London.

During his years in Amsterdam, Conceptualist Carrion grew into a cultural transformer. He situated high art in the wide territory of culture, and came to see cultural communication and distribution as its essence. He used postage stamps, television, the radio, mail, film, video, sound, and organized complex systems of activities, people, places, objects, and time to create, communicate, and distribute a “complete culture.”

Ulises table at the Parking Day event at Reading Terminal Market.
Ulises table at the Parking Day event at Reading Terminal Market.

As Carrion did, Bezos saw the importance of distribution to books and to culture, and he resuscitated the market with a dynamite new distribution channel and fresh products that jolted book-buying and bookstores into the future, transformed publishing, extending the book-buying market to remote places, and bringing us new ways to enjoy books. Book reading on a screen is becoming the on-the-go supplement for those of us who cannot bear the thought of being without a book at all times. No, reading on a screen is not the substitute for buying real books as we feared. And then there are audio books. Last quarter, the sale of audio books rose by 38%, according to The New York Times. Thanks to Bezos, like him or not, we can now tuck ourselves under our favorite blankets, close our eyes or sip a cup of tea and be read to by authors, poets, and the actresses of our choice.

Inspired by cultural icon Ulises Carrion and unwittingly ushered in by cultural icon Jeff Bezos, Ulises brings Philadelphia a much-needed art bookshop and a one-of-a-kind culture center to add to the rich mix of cultural spaces in North Philly. Welcome, Ulises.

Ulises Bookshop, 31 E. Columbia Avenue (corner of Columbia and Front Streets) Philadelphia, PA, 19125 opens Saturday, Nov. 12, with a grand opening celebration, 6PM – 9PM. Free and open to the public. Regular store hours will be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 2PM – 7PM.


art books, books, philadelphia, Ulises, Ulises Carrion



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