L'art Vivant Aux Etats-Unis


L'art Vivant Aux Etats-Unis
Foundation Maeght
164 pp.

design by  Hannes M. Anrig and Jacques Jouffroy
printed in Switzerland

I love a strong front and back cover relationship. This book uses Gill Kayo (the chosen font for the foundation throughout the period) to great effect here. Sitting on a kind of reverse-shadow of itself, the title is reflected on the back with an inverse relationship of the vibrant red and blue as on the front, creating an optical effect that is nothing short of arresting (and somewhat at odds with the formatting inside). Within, the tone is immediately quieted with a comparatively austere and airy preface typeset in Univers which is handsomely used throughout the rest of this exhibition catalog.

The design of the book, with the exception of the boisterous cover, is relatively reserved and straight-forward. What attracts me to it is its beautiful printing, pacing, and generous use of negative space. In fact, at times I see myself reading the negative space of certain spreads before the content themselves, due to the text and image seemingly retreating to the margins in an effort to avoid recognition, or at the very least create as much space as possible in this tiny catalog. Furthering the curious and quaint nature of this text, due to a publisher error, every copy is missing their 13th and 14th pages.


Donald Judd — Fifteen Works


Donald Judd — Fifteen Works
Lone Star Foundation
Heiner Friedrich, Inc., New York. 
46 pp.

printed in New York

I consider this to be a very rare example of a perfect book. It's managed to achieve such a status by virtue of its satisfying feeling of completeness and congruence. Completeness in that the content of the book documents and presents the subject in a refreshingly total and holistic way. Congruence because the design of the book perfectly embodies the spirit of Donald Judd’s aesthetic and ideology without veering into pastiche. No decision feels out of place, overthought or heavy-handed. 

I found this book at Printed Matter's NY Art Book Fair a few years back. The Dia Art Foundation, as usual, had a particularly sparse display of catalogs on their table. But this one didn't look familiar. I hadn’t recognized it from years past, nor had I seen it on their site before. It turns out that someone at the foundation had unintentionally discovered a large box full of these old exhibition catalogs from the work's debut at the Heiner Friedrich gallery. And as luck would have it, Dia is now the owner of this series of fifteen plywood sculptures that are shown in this book. So the foundation promptly acquired and began to sell the books—a wholly unique and now somewhat mysterious record of one of Dia’s most prized series of works.

I struggle to think of ways I would improve on its design. Much like Judd’s work that is featured within, it lacks all ornament and flourish. The skeletal remains feel refreshingly pragmatic and devoid of any pretension.

The printing was unkind to Univers with ink spilling out and across the letterforms, neutralizing the more subtle qualities of the typeface, but in turn creating a kind of utilitarian and rough-hewn quality. In a way it reminded me of the plywood boxes themselves. The structure of the book is exceptionally simple. Each of the fifteen works are presented in an identical fashion: a spread is dedicated to an initial isometric sketch by Judd. This is followed by a second spread of technical drawings illustrating the central perspective of the piece as well as the plan and section view, with all accompanying material and dimension information. The final spread is reserved for a single photograph showing the end product: the wooden sculpture sitting unceremoniously in the quiet space of the gallery. The viewer is quickly ushered through the entire series from inception to execution, without any explanatory text. Paging through the book is a methodical and meditative experience. The relationships to Judd’s work are obvious. Like his sculptures, the structure of the book is laid bare. Additionally, ample space is provided to the drawings and photographs, asking the viewer to consider both the positive and negative image, exactly like how his sculptures invite you to simultaneously confront the foreground and background, interior and exterior.

A lesser designer could have suffocated this humble catalog with gimmicks and effects, overpowering the stillness of its contents. But instead, the anonymous designer has managed to channel Judd to create a catalog that telegraphs the tranquil and unadorned nature of the sculptures themselves.




Galerie Beyeler Basel

design by Victor Vasarely
printed in Switzerland

I had the pleasure of discovering this catalog in an unassuming Hudson Valley bookstore. Its narrow, featureless spine is easily lost in a crowded shelf. Luckily, despite its seemingly willful indifference to being found, I pulled it out and began to explore an incredibly beautiful and idiosyncratic object. The catalog is indeed two separate books: one focused on European modernist art and the other, American. Both are wrapped by an acetate cover bearing only the prosaic title of the book on each side. The sheet rests atop two square paintings (which perfectly fit the book’s format), each representing their continent of origin. No further text is visible anywhere on the exterior.

The interior is a playful cacophony of text and image dancing alongside each other. No two pages are alike. Univers Regular is typeset simply throughout (like many Swiss books of the time) yet the type, unusually, defies a strict adherence to a grid for any discernible reason other than the pure delight of exploring new relationships to the positive and negative space on the page. Images also shape shift throughout the book from expansive, full-bleed spreads which feel far grander than they actually are, to smaller, tipped-in plates which sit comfortably within the white, square frame of the page.

Despite the starkness of the book and the undoubted love that went into its making, it lacks all pretension or preciousness. It’s a sensitive and playful study of form, material, and pacing, with a clear respect paid to each and every artist featured within. I can’t remember the last time I came across a book designed in the present-day that has matched all these qualities with such effortlessness.

The designer, despite his nuanced credits for the group that handled the photolithography as well as the printing and production, neglects to mention himself. In fact, it took a tremendous amount of sleuthing (and a degree of guess-work) before I was able to conclude with some certainty that the person responsible for the design was actually the op-artist Victor Vasarely who had a long-standing relationship with Galerie Beyeler and designed other books for their exhibitions around the same period.

I look forward to sharing more of Vasarely’s incredible work in the near future.




Henri Matisse
George Brazier
facsimile edition (1983)

design by Henri Matisse
printed in Germany

"Henri Matisse (1869—1954) was known for his brilliant and expressive use of color and his bold innovations in a wide variety of media. In addition to painting and sculpture, he designed ballet sets, murals, a chapel, and a number of special-edition books. The most important of these books was Jazz, published in Paris in 1947 by Efstratios Tériade, which combined colored cutouts and a poetic essay on art in Matisse’s own photoengraved handwriting.

Matisse had first used cutout papers in 1937 to do layouts for a mural commissioned by the great American collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes. A decade later, following a cancer operation that left him unable to stand, Matisse returned to this technique as the only activity he could manage from his sickbed. His nurse and secretary, Lydia Delectorskaya, painted large sheets of paper with vibrant tempera colors, which Matisse then cut into shapes with scissors. He then directed Delectorskaya in creating compositions from these shapes by pinning them to the wall. After many rearrangements, the final composition would be pasted in place.

In order to scale these wall-sized compositions down for publication, Tériade’s printers hand-cut thin metal stencils that exactly followed the contours of Matisse’s cutouts. Inks calibrated to the exact hues of the tempera colors used in the original cutouts were painstakingly hand-brushed through the stencils, lending a freshness and directness to the prints not possible with any other technique. The decision to use Matisse’s own handwriting to present the text of the book permitted him to balance each page spread with a colorful image on one side and a formal black-and-white “drawing” on the other. The Johnson Museum’s edition of Jazz is one of only one hundred portfolio copies issued unbound and without the text, which makes it possible to re-create, on a smaller scale, the effect of Matisse’s mural compositions.

The dominant themes of the twenty works created for Jazz are the circus and the theater. It is thought that Matisse originally intended to call the book Circus, but was persuaded by Tériade to rename it. Whatever the reason for the name change, the experimental, improvisational nature of the Jazz compositions, with their exuberant colors, swooping arabesques, and staccato rhythms, are certainly worthy of the name."



For Every Dog a Different Master


For Every Dog a Different Master
Kateřina Šedá
JRP Ringier

design by Radim Peško

"Based on Sedá’s work for Documenta 12, this book documents a complex and long-term project realized in Nova Lisen, Brno, Czech Republic, where the artist lives. In the guise of a kind of “mail art,” Sedá put in contact the inhabitants of a housing project undergoing renovation, breaking down the conventions of addressing an audience in the art context, as well as stimulating exchanges and relations between the involuntarily participants."