Moon and Space


Moon and Space
Galerie Beyeler Basel

design by Victor Vasarely(?)
printed in Switzerland


How often do you think of a book as “inviting”? What does that word even mean in the context of printed matter? To me, it is one of the most fundamental characteristics of the medium. How might a book ask you to explore it; to navigate its text, imagery, materiality, and overall visual strategy? It’s a fallacy to believe a designer’s role is to make a book which simply looks good. That often results in an object that is comprised of a series of disparate pages which function more like independent posters than interrelated spreads. The alternative is a book which is so timid in its execution it is an utter banality to navigate. Instead, it is the mark of a designer’s generosity to create a text which fuses the beauty of the single page with one that is a joy to hold, to open, to manipulate, and explore. The next time you flip through a book, ask yourself if you feel punished for turning the page or rewarded.

Moon and Space is a perfect example of that sense of reward the reader receives not only for continuing through the book, but for returning back to it again and again. Published in 1969 by Galerie Beyeler (which has ceased to exist and was replaced with the remarkable institution, the Foundation Beyeler), Moon and Space is among a family of exhibition catalogs from that era which are all magnificently designed. I’ve shared one such catalog before—Europa/America—and I hope at some point to post more in the future. But the Moon and Space was my first introduction to this publisher and therefor holds a special place in my heart. The designer is unattributed, however, I believe it is the work of op artist Victor Vasarely who was trained as a book designer and represented by Galerie Beyeler. It bears many signature marks of Vasarely’s designs from the large and playful typsetting of Univers, to the dancing text blocks and images across the page, and finally the liberal interchange of substrates throughout.

The exhibition itself, as one might surmise, was predicated on artists’ interrogation of the celestial and surreal. Such a theme is music to any designer’s ears and Vasarely surely did justice to such a poetic and open-ended concept. The cover, bizarrely, is actually an acetate wrap which has Joan Miró’s “dream painting” simply titled “Painting” (1927) printed on top. The rich blue hue is further complemented by the transparency and dimensionality of the acetate as its distance from the paper cover underneath varies and alters its intensity. Below the jacket and printed on the cover is a second painting, this time by Paul Klee, along with the title of the catalog in reverse contrast type. What I find so striking about this cover is the intentional distortion of the Miró and Klee.


We’re conditioned to expect artwork to be presented objectively and in a pristine state. Yet here, not only is Miro’s painting die-cut to show Klee’s moon through his dark blue sky, but the wrapper’s translucency gives way to an entirely alternative reading… a kind of third, new painting emerges from the blending of the two. I find it hard to believe that any popular publisher today would sanction such a manipulation of an artwork, and yet in this instance it succeeds in creating a disorienting and surreal bridge to the dream-like content within.

On the title page we’re greeted with a luminescent metallic silver which shimmers against the blue title set in perspective, as well as publisher and exhibition date information. It’s also worth noting that the decision to forgo capitalization throughout the book gives a lovely childlike impression to the experience. On the first page, as well as subsequent pages sporadically throughout the book, we’re presented with excerpts from literature or popular culture which have to do in one way or another with space, the fantastical, or our romance with the unknown. Editor Dr. Reinhold Hohl is responsible for the collection and I commend him for the absence of art-historical references in the text. It completely recontextualizes the experience of the artwork into a broader dimension of human existence. Texts are presented in their original language and range from a writing by Schopenhauer to an excerpt from Alice in Wonderland to NASA transcripts from the Apollo moon missions. The result is, again, a dream-like fugue through text and image, all orbiting this amorphous topic of what lies beyond our perception.

Much like how the text itself shifts author, perspective, and time, the imagery also contracts and expands as it irreverently dances across the pages. The tipped-in color plates add to the liveliness of the spreads as each image flutters about when the pages are turned. And a few gatefold pages add to the mystery and playfulness of this ever-evolving object. Two colors: the rich spot cyan of the type along with the metallic silver pages interweave throughout to create a wonderful play with one another and the artwork.

I don’t mean this to sound pejorative when I say there is an unmistakable silliness to the book’s design. It defies a kind of logical cohesion which one might attribute to Swiss work of the time. The consequence of which is an experience that feels whimsical and childish in a way that is so completely befitting of the subject matter. Flipping through this book, reading the texts, and looking at the abstract works, I’m left with a contented sensation similar to that which you get when you stare into the sky at night and feel the unmistakable tinge of appreciation to know just how little we understand about ourselves and our world.



Anonyme Skulpturen


Anonyme Skulpturen — Kunst-Zeitung Vol 2
Verlag Michelpresse

printed in Düsseldorf

Some will remember my previous post highlighting the historic Becher catalog Industriebauten 1830­–1930 which documented their first exhibition ever. This publication holds similar historical weight as it marks the first show the Bechers ever had in Düsseldorf, their city of residence, and where they famously organized the Düsseldorf School of Photography within the Kunstakademie. In this post I’ll spare you a belabored introduction to the Bechers’ oeuvre along with my gratuitous enthusiasm for it. But I do recommend visiting that post for more background on their exceptional body of work if you’re unfamiliar. For now, I’ll simply focus on why I find this short, cheaply made publication so remarkable.

The first thing worth mentioning—and probably the book’s most striking feature—is its oversized proportion at 43cm tall, however, the photos regrettably don’t quite convey that scale. (As an aside, I am experimenting with video supplements for these photo-based posts which would document the books in a naturalistic setting, allowing readers to appreciate the materiality, scale, and pacing of a book as it is being flipped through.) In an atypical move, all of the Bechers’ contemporary monographs are nearly identical in size and measure about 29cm tall, making this publication the largest-ever produced on the Bechers’ work (to my knowledge.) This point may seem pedantic but the impact of such a shift is dramatic when you’re lucky enough to find yourself in front of it. The larger format is very flattering of the work, especially given the monolithic nature of the subjects.

On the cover we find a tightly set Times New Roman flaunting an electric pink. It’s an irregular decision, which says nothing of the bizarre juxtaposition against the stark image of the cooling tower. And yet, it’s somehow perfect. The two elements conspire to create an arresting harmony that is utterly distinguished and entirely contemporary. I suspect only a sad, joyless soul could find fault with this pairing. 


Continuing into the interior, the reader is presented with a pulse of gridded building typologies as they flip through the pages: first eight, then four, two, two, and again ending with four. The effect creates a brilliant rhythm as the size of each image shifts dramatically from page to page, but also allows the viewer to appreciate the seriality of the Bechers’ work. In this writer’s humble opinion, the pièce de résistance are the two spreads with single images on each. Again, the sheer scale of the towers allow their rich intricacies of texture and tone to be more fully studied and appreciated. The interior spreads are further complemented by another idiosyncratic yet equally pleasing decision to typeset the miniscule captions in Futura along with cavernous word spacing. The result are captions which read with the lightness of a musical score. The contrast between the towering photographs and the delicacy of the type serves to reinforce the beauty in one another. 

The short publication concludes with three tightly framed landscapes which are just as rare in the Bechers’ oeuvre as they are striking. Each panorama stretches across the page with a beautiful horizontal stress which contrasts the intense verticality of the entire book thus-far. Additionally, we’re granted the context of seeing these sculptures in dialogue with one another and their natural landscape. It’s a fitting end to a catalog which transcends the ephemeral nature of its origin. Indeed, Kunst-Zeitung had never issued this with posterity in mind. For instance, it is almost impossible to find a copy without one or two creases down the center as they had been crudely folded for easier packaging and mailing by the publisher. And it’s precisely this lack of pretense or formality which I find so refreshing and attractive here. The ease to which this value-engineered folio of just 12 pages might still be saved, cherished, and shared 50 years after its making is a testament to the incredible capacity of printed matter to endure and transcend the context and intentions of its time.



Warszawskie Getto


Warszawskie Getto

design by Hubert Hilscher
printed in Poland

After a sustained and regrettable hiatus, I’m returning to Other Library to share a powerful book deserving of close reflection for its sobering subject and remarkable design. In my mind it manages to overcome the difficult challenge of recording human suffering in a dignified and respectful way that avoids exploitation or minimization of the people involved. Warszawskie Getto is a haunting portrait of Nazi-occupied Poland, told through the lens of Polish photographers and released by the Polish publisher Interpress in the late 80s. This deeply affecting photobook depicts everyday life in the largest Jewish ghetto during World War II, culminating with the ultimate uprising against the Nazis and their lasting effects on the city.

Photos are divided into chapters, featuring everything from the quotidian minutiae of everyday life, to the violent fires and death that plagued the city. The book’s portrayal of these atrocities is unflinching, yet measured. Not once do the photographs veer into sensationalism nor do they fetishize or aestheticize the tragedy. Instead, the images are imbued with a profound humanity, capturing people with grace and dignity in the face of overwhelming oppression. It is a narrative lovingly told with empathy and remorse, seen through the eyes of the people who lived through the experience first-hand.

Given the solemn nature of the subject, the task of compiling and designing such a book no doubt required a nuanced approach and a sensitive hand. The Polish designer Hubert Hilscher responded with a book bereft of extraneous ornament or flourish. The typesetting, almost exclusively Helvetica, is applied in a crude and unadorned fashion. The photographs don't occupy a delicate, consistent place on the page. Instead, they spill out across each spread, shifting in size and shape to best accommodate the subject. Consequently, there is an incredible cadence to the pacing of the photography, with some spreads densely packed with claustrophobic, tiled portraits, while the following page can open up to an expansive single image of a cityscape. The result is a document that breathes with life, charged with a dynamism that is unpredictable and evocative. Another powerful element of this book is the intense, void-like matte black of its pages which brings additional gravity to the imagery.


I struggle to put into words how or why I believe the sum total of Hilscher’s decisions, carefully applied and masterfully sequenced, equate to this salient and respectful portrait of Warsaw and its people. But I know for a certainty that he has managed to avoid common tropes I’ve seen too many designers fall victim to when the subject of a design is human suffering or oppression. An immediate example which comes to mind is the work of Pentagram partner Harry Pearce who attempted to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a poster featuring his blood photographed in the shape of an atom bomb explosion. The design, along with the process of its making and its subsequent reception, felt as though Pearce had flippantly used the horrific tragedy as a prop to explore an “interesting” design execution or worse, focus attention on himself rather the victims. If you’d like, you could read my deeper analysis of the poster, but my point is to draw a stark contrast between both works of design. Where Pearce’s poster focuses almost entirely on execution, craft, aesthetics, and “Smile in the Mind”-cleverness, Hilscher’s book is a poignant and dignified glimpse into the victims of a horrific tragedy that eschews visual tricks and gimmicks in deference to its subject.

I hope I’ve managed to present this book in a thoughtful and respectful way. Even the task of photographing its pages was at times difficult. I’ve had to largely avoid some chapters and imagery, particularly that of the dead, because it felt inappropriately voyeuristic and simply too painful to feature. However, I’ve tried to balance that anxiety with the strong belief that these stories need to be told. And it’s important to celebrate the work that manages to do so with an elegance and humanity such as this.





Klaus Rinke
Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

printed in Germany

Sadly, I've found very very little written about this catalog. Complicating matters, what little information I have found exists only in German. And the title of the book also seems deliberately impenetrable. (Perhaps an overt—yet unintentional—theme emerging on this blog might be the fact that I’m regularly drawn to books that utterly confuse me and defy easy explanation or categorization.) In fact, the only information I’ve been able to glean about this book at all comes from an insert that was fortuitously included when I found it at Marcus Campbell Art Books in London. The crude yet charming press release (also documented here and included at the end of the slideshow) describes an exhibition catalog, documenting a student exhibit at the Kunst-und Museumsverein Wuppertal organized by artist and professor, Klaus Rinke.

The awkward marriage of the book’s peculiar title and its front and back cover design was immediately seductive. The red-orange type vibrates against the black and white photograph, bluntly wrapping the book and ensuring that the title is never completely legible when viewing just the front or back of the catalog. Peculiar design decisions like this echo throughout the book in various, seemingly haphazard ways.

The only consistent element within is the stark section titles which precedes each new artists’ work. The rest of the content ebbs and flows through increasingly surprising forms with every section giving the impression that it was designed by the individual artist themselves. The result is an engrossing medley of type and image—intertwined and erratic—that successfully breaks many conventions of book design.

As I was paging through this book for the first time, I immediately wondered if Irma Boom had ever seen it. The grand and flamboyant gestures on each page reminded me of her approach which often eschews subtlety and nuance in pursuit of a visceral immediacy. There is an unmistakable energy and point of view in here, but I’m saddened to say I have no idea who to credit for this majestic and weird thing. If anyone here knows anything more about it and would like to contribute to piecing together and sharing its history, please reach out.


Industriebauten 1830–1930


Industriebauten 1830–1930
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Die Neue Sammlung

printed in Germany

At the risk of sounding unbearably cheesy, I'll say that this book has been one of my more emotional acquisitions. The catalog is the very first book published on the photography duo Bernd and Hilla Becher, who would go on to fundamentally alter the nature of postmodern photography. Those who know me will be familiar with my respect for their work and practice. And it's a privilege to have a piece of their history, documenting their first exhibition long before they attainted their historic status.

The Bechers dedicated their lives to capturing the post-industrial landscape of Europe and later America. Where others saw worthless artifacts from a bygone era, they found beauty in the incredible invention of form stemming from practical considerations dictated by the various functions of each structure. They studied these abandoned and dilapidated buildings with undying precision and care using a rigid methodology for composing a shot. In fact, you can compare any two photos taken across the decades in which they worked and they would look exactly the same (save for improvements in the technology). 

Aside from creating a massive body of inspiring work which alone sits above most in the history of modern photography, the Bechers also had a rich pedagogical career, founding the Dusseldorf School of Photography and teaching an entire generation of world-renowned artists working in the Becher's tradition of photographic objectivity such as Thomas Struth, Candida Hofer, and Andreas Gursky to name but a few. 

The book itself is printed cheaply and is very brief at only 34 pages long. The design, however, is quite striking. Its cover stuns, demonstrating a remarkable sensitivity for space and type, somehow making the photograph feel larger than life. The unnamed designer does well to let the photography breathe in the upfront section of the catalog. But once the essay has concluded, the book organizes the collection of works by function, grouping like with like and allowing the viewer the ability to easily analyze and compare the architectural forms which reveal intricate variations on a theme. This indexing method has been employed by the Bechers their entire career to great effect. 

Although I have nine other Becher catalogs, all featuring high-quality reproductions of their work, this tiny catalog remains my favorite. It marks a humble beginning of two incredible artists who married exceptional vision with a loving passion for their craft.