Thursday, August 5, 2010

El Lissitzky and Max Burchartz reprints from Lars Müller

While in Koln Germany recovering from the Kassel festival burnout I made many non-photobook discoveries, one of which was a series that Verlag Lars Muller published in the mid-90s reprinting facsimiles of great graphic design from the 20s and 30s.

These are cardboard slipcased boxes of loose material, often magazines, pamphlets, posters and single sheet replicas of letterhead or company advertising created by El Lissitzky and Max Burchartz and others. Individual boxes are dedicated to the work of one designer. I believe there are four in the series. Two others I saw but didn't buy are on the pamphlets and prospectus from the architect Hannes Meyer, and reprints of the architecture magazine from the Bauhaus, ABC which was published from 1924-28 (edited by Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, El Lissitzky and Emil Roth).

The first that caught my eye in the Walther Konig's bookstore is a box that contains reprints of El Lissitzky and Ilya Ehrenburg's Vesc magazines. It debuted in 1922 with the aim of acting as a "link between two neighboring communication trenches" - that of young Russian and western European artists triangulating Berlin, Paris and Moscow. Constructivist in agenda it featured art and writing, "whose task is not to embellish life but organize it."

Its emphasis on literature, art and music contained divergent attitudes and viewpoints partly due to the editor's openness to include of a wide variety of contributors but mostly because 1922 was a watershed year when Dadism was splitting into new camps rational and irrational tendencies - constructivism and surrealism. Contributors included; Lissitzky (of course), Fernand Leger, Boris Pasternak, Le Corbusier, Nicolai Punin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Raoul Hausmann, Harold Loeb, Juan Gris and dozens of others.

This box includes the three issues of Vesc in two booklets (the original issues one and two were combined into a single volume) and a larger book of translations and essays on the magazine's history. There are relatively few illustrations with the articles but the typography and layout are visually exhilarating. The contemporary book of comments and translations (which thankfully includes English) has a fine essay by Roland Nachtigaller and Hubertus Gassner.

The second box from this series I picked up is even better than the first, Max Burchartz: Typografische Arbeiten 1924-1931. If the Lissitzky and Ehrenburg box seems a little empty since it is only three booklets, the Burchartz box is virtually overflowing with material.

Although he never reached the level of fame attached to other designers, Burchartz is now considered a pioneer of modern design. His beginnings in painting and advertising expanded into typography, photography and furniture design. Admired by Jan Tschichold, some examples of his page layouts appeared in Tschichold's classic The New Typography in 1928. His theories of color control for building interiors that he developed while working with the architect Alfred Fischer were thought groundbreaking but ultimately forgotten until recently.

One of the most exciting inclusions in this box are a series of company pamphlets he made for the steel fabrication company Bochumer Verein. Bold use of color schemes, photography and typography beautifully illustrate offerings of bells, springs, railroad tracks, mining tools, crankshafts, and mechanisms used for ship propellors. One might imagine that much of the design greatness of these 10 folios from 1925 went perhaps unnoticed by the tradesman who they were aimed to entice.

Other items included are a couple of advertising pamphlets for a door handle company called Wehag which feature some door handles Burchartz designed himself, a theater program booklet and theater schedule poster from 1925, a poster from a vacuum company called Orion, as well as personal designs for his letterhead and calling card.

The paper stock and printing used for these boxes reflect the original materials. All in all there are 26 items to Typografische Arbeiten, all of which are produced at 1:1 scale. Also included is a booklet on Burchartz's personal history but unfortunately for me, it is in German with no English translation.

These reprint boxes are modestly priced at around 60-80 dollars and luckily from what I see through used book listings they haven't really jumped in price a great deal since their initial publication. If early design and typography is your thing then these are well worth a look.