Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bibliographic by Jason Godfrey

In the scholarly world of books about books, graphic designers and architects need love too. Just published by Laurence King, Jason Godfrey's Bibliographic is a must for the design conscious.

Bibliographic is not a comprehensive collection but a selection of 100 important books of fine graphic design. This cross-section includes many obviously influential works (Tschichold, Tolmer, Kepes, Moholy-Nagy) but also obscure titles such as two books from early type foundaries and Ben Shahn's Love and Joy about Letters. (The later I have owned for years and despite the title, I am embarrassed to have not spent more time to consider how great Shahn was as a designer and typographer.)

Bibliographic is organized into chapters of ; Typography, Sourcebooks, Instructional, Histories, Anthologies, and Monographs. Each double page spread is dedicated to the examination of one book at a time through short descriptions and many illustrations. Mouthwatering examples of typography in Manuale Typographicum (1954) from Hermann Zapf and Aaron Burns' Typography (1961) put their craft into practice with brilliance.

Like photobooks, several of these examples are so scarce that they are beyond the reach of most readers, Alfred Tolmer's Mise en Page from 1931 would be a welcome volume for a reprint with its impressive production techniques as would Gyorgy Kepes' influential Language of Vision from 1944. The designer's library, perhaps even more than a photographer's, is a working collection where education and influence should be importantly within arm's reach.

In his introduction, the most prolific of writers on design Steven Heller, makes mention of the now common feeling of "book envy" and the desire to own these books perhaps much like the Parr/ Badger series has done for hundreds of photobooks. Thankfully, Godfrey's gives us a guide through these examples along with an extensive bibliography supplied by today's leading designers. Bibliographic will certainly inspire many new book searches and additions to our already sagging bookshelves.

In Victor Hug's novel Notre Dame de Paris the archdeacon Claude Frollo warns of the danger that books could kill architecture. For hundreds of years repeated attempts to hammer out and interpret basic formal rules has inspired discussion and rebellion found in the most contemporary of design. The book Modern: Architecture Books from the Marzona Collection published in 2003 as a companion to a traveling exhibition (How to Build? The Modernist Book) features a couple hundred examples that have shaped this discussion.

Egidio Marzona is an art collector who's interest in Minimal Art, Atre Provera, Conceptual Art and Earthworks has amassed over 1000 works and thousands of books on various subjects. His interest in architecture and design led to this book and exhibition. This small format book is interesting for sure but its design and generally conservative use of illus
trations (only two - three per book) will make readers wish for a deeper look into these amazing titles. The exhibition included several hundred examples where this catalog only includes a fraction.

Dan Graham's For Publication fits well within the Marzona collection's normal association with Concept or Minimal Art as will Gordon Matta-Clark's Wallspaper. Paola Navone and Bruno Orlandoni's Architettura "Radicale" (1974) looks to be a fascinating but difficult to find item which I wish was illustrated by more than one internal spread.

Three essays, one a discussion between Marzona and Elizabetta Bresciani (the show's curator), provide a good tour through the history of these books and the shifts in architectural approach and attitude. For me these essays were indispensable as there are no individual descriptions of each book. This void makes Modern mostly a volume of visual candy that will fascinate and frustrate fans of design, architecture and bookcraft. Perhaps a gifted author like a Jason Godfrey from the architecture world could be capable of compiling a great book on this worthy subject.

1 comment:

Christopher Livsey said...

No comments yet ? A book I would certainly not have found on my own and for that thanks. Obviously an "insiders" work but if you have pretensions to get into print this is will serve you well if only to daunt you.
As I suspect reviews will be few can I point you to Robin Benson writing on the listing ? An ex magazine Art Director he adds a list of "missing" titles I and others may find interesting.