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.