Rick Poynor

Critic; Curator; Writer; Lecturer / Graphic Design / United Kingdom / Design Observer

Rick Poynor’s Notable Books of 2011

These titles deal with some aspect of visual culture and they are all books I have enjoyed this year. Only one, 100 Artists’ Manifestos, is an entirely pictureless read; the others are intensely visual, but their texts are important, too. I single them out because, in each case, I felt a rush of excitement as soon as I laid hands on them. The subjects were of great interest to me, the books made an instant connection and I coveted them for my library, though I’m still saving up for The Ruins of Detroit. I might just have to put that one on my Christmas list.

7 books
Johan Kugelberg Editor
Philippe Vermès Editor

As the “Occupy” protests spread around the world, this high-impact record of the May 1968 uprising against the French government in the streets of Paris couldn’t be timelier. The simple one-color poster designs, many shown full-page, jump with raw energy. The book also gathers translations from contemporary documents, a timeline of events, pictures of the Atelier Populaire workshop by participant and co-author Philippe Vermès, and photos of slogans scrawled on the walls.

Yves Marchand Photographs
Romain meffre Photographs
Robert Polidori Essay
Thomas J. Sugrue Essay

I was staggered the first time I saw whole neighborhoods in a state of disintegration on a visit to Detroit. How could a city in such a wealthy nation resemble a war zone? Car plants, hotels, theaters, apartment buildings, school classrooms, police stations, dentists’ surgeries, bank vaults—in brilliant pictures, taken over a five-year period, we confront a vision of economic disaster and a city fabric gripped by entropy. A deeply alarming survey and, we have to hope, not as prescient as it feels.

Horacio Fernández Editor
Designed by José Luis Logo

This major photobook survey (followed by The Dutch Photobook in 2012) focuses on Latin American publications that are little known even in their countries of origin. Many of the projects from the 1930s to the present are stunning and easily the equal of photobooks from Europe, the U.S. and Japan. Horacio Fernández and his advisory committee are acutely sensitive to the vital role that graphic design plays in making a photobook, and there is a valuable appendix exploring the work of six key designers. José Luis Logo expertly lays out the pages.

Els Kuijpers

For admirers of Dutch graphic design, the new monograph about R.D.E. (“Ootje”) Oxenaar is a treat. Already successful as a designer, at 40 he joined the Dutch Postal and Telecommunications Service where he became a national champion of excellent design. Els Kuijpers’s text is exhaustively researched and intellectually satisfying. Jan van Toorn and Mart Rozenbeek’s design packs in a huge portfolio of visual material with no sense of strain. Graphic design history needs more studies like this.

Alex Danchev Editor

This collection is a great idea. Instead of treating artists’ manifestos only as documents of the movements they supported, it invites us to read them as works of literature, and even as classics. The “heroic” years of manifesto-making, c. 1910–30, are as bombastic as you would expect (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism), but there are many compelling later examples, including the priceless Stuckists, and architectural manifestos from Rem Koolhaas, Lebbeus Woods, and Charles Jencks.

Pat Kirkham
Jennifer Bass

We have waited far too long for a monograph about Saul Bass, one of the greatest designers of film titles and a master of corporate identity. This monster volume treads a careful line between warm celebration—Bass’s daughter Jennifer designs it respectfully—and properly thorough design history. Pat Kirkham’s profuse endnotes are almost a book in their own right. A highly readable work of reference that is likely to remain the key study of Bass for years to come.

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