The return of Milan’s art book fair fails to meet expectations

The fair has embarked on a clear shift. A change that those who attended Sprint in past editions will notice.

A view of the exhibition “HARD COPY SOFT TOUCH, Experiences on Queer & Transfeminist Archive” part of this year's edition of Sprint. Milano Art Guide

For several years, Milan has been the capital of independent publishing, primarily in the field of contemporary art and culture. The magazine Mousse, Kaleidoscope, and Rivista Studio, to name a few, were born here, and here some of the most riveting creators in the industry still operate.

One of the focal points of the avant-garde scene was SPRINT, the art books salon founded in 2013 by the O’ nonprofit association, and curated by Dafne Boggeri.

After a break in 2020 due to the pandemic, the fair returns to Milan with an in-person edition. The aim is to present the most interesting publications from the Italian and international independent scene. 

Unfortunately, this year somehow seems to disappoint expectations. The offer is mediocre and lacking in novelties, except for the well-known names in the game, like Mousse Publishing, Kaleidoscope, and Nero. The selection doesn’t shine in terms of freshness, signaling an overall drop of originality.

Since 2018 the event has migrated to Spazio Maiocchi, one of the hypest venues in town, headquarters of the SLAM JAM clothing company, which also houses the editorial offices of the Kaleidoscope magazine.

Since it has moved in the polished open-space in the Porta Venezia area, the contents of the initiative seem to lose strength year after year. Besides a few exceptions that we already knew about, such as Frankenstein, a Milan-based magazine that features comics by authors from different backgrounds, this year of Sprint is far from exciting. 

Rather than an independent publishing fair, it seems to be a convention of self-produced projects that perhaps no one else wanted to bet on. The absence of some key players is noticeable. The most obvious Lenz, founded by Edoardo Bonaspetti and Stefano Cernuschi, which in the same days launched two new books, “Alessandro Pessoli. Testa Cristiana” and “Vogliamo tutto. Pratiche culturali e lavoro”, far away from the event.

At the entrance, an igloo vaguely resembling the Covid virus houses the exhibition “Most Beautiful Swiss Books”. Photo Milano Art Guide.

The audience has also definitely changed. While Sprint used to be attended by fans of the sector looking for cutting-edge books, nowadays, hordes of young people compete in parading the latest sneakers. The fair has become a hotspot for wannabe-hip kids who apparently (and there was a long queue at the entrance all the way down the street) consider the event not to be missed. Youngsters who think of themselves as unique and yet are all dressed the same.

At the entrance, an igloo vaguely resembling the Covid virus houses an exhibition produced in collaboration with the Istituto Svizzero. A display of 19 of the Most Beautiful Swiss Books awarded in 2021. One of the rooms inside hosts the exhibition HARD COPY SOFT TOUCH, Experiences on Queer & Transfeminist Archive, a collection of archives of images and documents on the queer and trans community and experience. Despite the tiny space, the work carried out by these collectives, including Milan’s Compulsive Archive, deserves to be shown and explored.

The quality of the offer of the collateral initiatives remains unchanged. This year it includes the exhibition Ostinato a tribute to the Italian designer Franco Grignani, the annual Risograph workshop, and a juicy calendar of talks and meetings.

On one hand, it is delightful to see all this interest in the independent publishing scene, a category that is unquestionably in crisis and that has felt the brunt of the current pandemic. But on the other, however, when the need to become trendy becomes a must, the quality of the products seems to sink, and this, perhaps, might not help.

The fair has embarked on a clear shift. There is nothing wrong with attracting a much wider audience, but it is a change that those who attended Sprint in past editions will notice.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is Executive Editor of Milano Art Guide. He writes a column on photography for Exibart and previously he reported for Zero.eu from 2016 to 2020. He is the creator and co-curator of the best-selling “The Colouring Book” published by 24OreCultura in 2020.