You probably had to be there to gain maximum reward from this intensive immersion in British, American, and international punk graphics from the mid-1970s to the present—the most complete visual survey of its kind. Russ Bestley and Alex Ogg were fans and Bestley is now a design educator with a Ph.D. devoted to punk graphics. Their almost dispassionately scholarly text is spliced with eye-witness accounts by other punk participants, and the pages of the book vibrate with enough record sleeves, posters, flyers, and fanzines to make your eyes hurt.
This 470-page catalogue, available in a fluent English translation, accompanied an exhibition at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid, and it remains to be seen whether it will receive wide distribution. Packed with images of 700 works, mainly from the collections of Merrill C. Berman and José María Lafuente, it is one of the most exhaustive and lusciously illustrated surveys of avant-garde graphic design yet published. At its center is a masterly “transverse reading” of experimental typography by Maurizio Scudiero, and British designer and historian Richard Hollis also provides a good overview. The catalogue closes with two insightful interviews with the collectors, whose curatorial vision has helped to focus attention on the achievements of avant-garde graphic design.
The Book of Books is an über-book—a gallery of dozens of the most stunning book designs saved for posterity in the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. From Aldus Manutius to Herbert Bayer, from Andreas Vesalius to Quentin Fiore, these generously sized reproductions have enormous impact on the page. Only in its more recent selections does the survey seem to waver, though no one could argue with the inclusion of Joost Grootens or Irma Boom. It must also be said that The Book of Books’ design lacks the elegance its subject matter demands, particularly in the bold, excessively line-spaced chapter intros. Once sampled, though, the panoramic scope and cavalcade of masterpieces make this a volume that book design lovers and bibliophiles will find hard to resist.
Despite some stiff competition, this survey of the Dutch photobook is my most notable visual book of the year to date. It is one of those groundbreaking publications (certainly for non-Dutch readers) that takes a field one knows only in fragments, puts it all together, and gives it new coherence—the obvious precursor is Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s two-volume history of the photobook. The editors organize the photobooks by theme, each topic succinctly introduced—landscape, youth culture, industry, travel, the city—and give each example a page or two of pictures and a short text. Joost Grootens builds the layouts with real sympathy for the material, and rounds off the story with an elaborate visual index that shows the books on a timeline, and classifies them by photographer, designer, physical size, and size of print run. A marvelous book.
FUSE, instigated by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft, was one of the most inventive and challenging typography projects of the 1990s, though curiously sidelined in its day and not much remembered since. There was a clear need for a book to collect the quarterly publication’s work and reassess its contribution, and the entire project is here, dressed up in a brown box like the original floppy disk and poster sets. New FUSE fonts, such as Jonathan Barnbook’s mysterious Rattera pictograms, can be accessed by password on the TASCHEN website. In this chunky, detailed retrospective, FUSE is presented very much from its founders’ point of view. The one thing missing is a critical and historical overview to cement the venture authoritatively within the lineage of the “applied avant-garde.”
When Stephen J. Eskilson’s Philip Meggs-challenging history of graphic design appeared in 2007—then subtitled A New History—it drew some heavy fire from critics at Design Observer. Just five years later, a substantially overhauled new edition has arrived, suggesting that the book succeeded in finding an audience. Eskilson has made necessary corrections, expanded the sections on Swiss, postmodern and contemporary design and the bibliography, and added 75 new images. His book is well illustrated, cleanly laid out, and the mass of text is readably presented—vital in a production on this scale. For anyone seeking a broad, serviceable introduction to graphic design history, these refinements add up to strong competition for the latest (posthumous) edition of Meggs’s survey.
Herb Lubalin admirers have waited a long time for a reassessment of his achievement and it’s been clear for a decade or more that typographic taste has re-embraced once unfashionable Lubalinesque styles. Detailed research leads Adrian Shaughnessy to conclude, in a long, adroitly paced biographical essay, that Lubalin was a far more noteworthy and less commercially driven figure than he imagined when he threw out his old copies of U&lc. Unit Editions’ book, designed by Spin, is a gorgeous, meticulously reproduced compendium that does everything in its power to win over the unconverted to Lubalin’s cause.
Substantial monographs about contemporary designers don’t come along that often and this one about Mirko Ilić bursts at the seams with the man’s energy, generosity, loquacity and sense of danger. Yugoslavia—as it was then—was never going to be big enough to contain him and he went on to take New York by storm with op-ed illustrations and design concepts of uncompromising directness, and no inhibiting qualms about good taste. Croatian writer Dejan Kršić does a great job of relating the story and the book is packed with the provocative, high-octane images that make Ilić one of a kind.
The Quay Brothers, twins from Pennsylvania who live in London, are two of the most visionary artists working in film, and this catalogue accompanied an exhibition at MoMA. They began by studying illustration and, alongside the film stills, the book includes little-seen examples of their designs for books and posters. Like their films, the graphic work seems to emanate from some uncanny middle Europe where expressionism and surrealism are conducting a weird embrace. An essential volume for admirers, it includes two projects by the brothers, including a fanciful conversation with a 16th-century lettering artist.
The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, one of Europe’s major art institutions, has a long commitment to the sensitive application of graphic design. In this engagingly focused, dual-language study, in the Premsela Design Story series, Dutch design historian Frederike Huygen examines the innovations of Willem Sandberg, a graphic designer who, in 1945, became the museum’s director, as well as contributions by Wim Crouwel, Anthon Beeke, Walter Nikkels, and Experimental Jetset. An accompanying film by Lex Reitsma documents the development of the Stedelijk’s latest visual identity by Mevis & Van Deursen before it reopened in 2012.
Printed Matter Hosts a Bolted Book Show & Tell, January 26, 2017
Bolted Book Show & Tell
Printed Matter, NYC Thursday, January 26, 2017, 6:30-8:00 PM, Free and open to the public
Graphic design guru Steven Heller from the School of Visual Arts and Fortunato Depero expert Raffaele Bedarida from Cooper Union will give an in-depth presentation of The Bolted Book while you examine the pages of the 1927 rare original up close and in person.