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aabb9aabb10The topic of this post is a discussion of the various aspects of American typography in relation to Art Catalogs from the 50’s through 90’s.

I would like to start with an innovative cover design from a Parisian gallery dated 1946. The powerhouse Avantgarde Gallery Rene Drouin started displaying works by de Beaudin, Dubuffet, Fautrier, Fougeron, D. Maar, Manessier, Pignon, Singier, Tal Coat, and Villonin  in 1944 near the end of the WWII. They showcased Concrete Art as early as 1945, displaying works by Arp, Delaunay R., Delaunay S., Domela, Freundlich, Gorin, Herbin, Kandinsky, Magnelli, Mondrian, Pevsner, Teaber-Arp, and van Doesburg.

Our catalog (top of post) does not mention the designer. This softcover catalog with its off-white cover has 37 numbered pages. It has some tipped in offset color plates and produced in limited numbers, ours number 318. A wonderful simple but very effective, eye catching “hand painted signature” cover.

aabb2Fashionable throughout the 60’s and 70’s was a type of cover design with “numbers on the cover” (shown above). Some views from the inside of this small softcover catalog shows a standard layout including a biography and a small photograph of the artist and his or her photographic works.

aabb8The catalog above has no numbered pages and no mention of the catalog designer or printer. The cover has a glossy, off-white paper with the numerals being its most interesting visual aspect.

Next is a catalog from a better known institution, with its visually eye catching format, 7 x 11 inches, a black and white cover and a title page showing the reverse in white and black. The geometric numbers and the restrained color work well on the balanced page layout.

aabb3aabb4The pages in the above catalog show a definitive structure reversing the photograph placement on the right and the left on every other page but always following an almost Swiss style marriage of text and photo grid.

aabb5aabb7aabb6At this point, we will have to backtrack a little. Rising stars on the London and New York art scene had created a breed of artists that wanted to try their hands at determining how their artistic and political ideas were brought to the general public. They asked for more control in hanging or displaying their works in museums and over exposure given to them publicly. This usually led to nothing more than what was placed on the cover and some artists consequently branched off into other art media like posters. (In 1987, Andy Warhol designed a poster, shown below bottom left, for New York’s Lincoln Center Film Festival. The ticket illustrated here would later be the cover of a museum catalog for an exhibition on posters!)

warhol ticketIn the sixties, an artist, just to mention one, like Asgar Jorn had purposely created original small lithographs for his New York show catalogs. In Europe with the expanding music culture, a new breed of graphic design stars would emerge in the 1960’s focusing on record album cover design. Some of them would be actual painters that branched out with innovative designs into catalog design for the London art world. They brought a fresh approach, changing type, format, colors away from stodgy, old world fashionable upper class focused on “do not rock the boat” design into modernity. One of these painter/graphic – designer/printmakers was the formidable Gordon House (1932-2004 ) who practically dominated the art catalog design trade in London. Gordon House had been an in-house designer for the British Chemical giant ICI from 1952 through 1959 and worked for a publishing company for two years thereafter.

aabb1A very good example of his work is this 1967 Marlborough Gallery catalog designed by him with a discrete mention on the very last page (shown above). The first point to mention is the format, almost square to the eye, but in reality measuring 8.5 inches in width by 9 inches in height. The second aspect used by House was the use of a single color to the cover to keep costs down but nevertheless one that stands out. Two colors were used for the cover text, deceptively simple but very effective. Gordon House also designed the type on the back cover for the iconic Beatles’ album: Sargeant Pepper. In fact, his colleague and friend Peter Blake did the front cover for this album. A decade of Pop Art dominance resulted in a “cover stardom” as well. Later on, on his own, he would design The Beatles “White” Album. For an overview of his work visit this London Gallery which last year held a retrospective exhibition of his work.

aabb18aabb19In 1970, the Princeton University Art Department produced a, now much overlooked, very important review of the art ideas of the sixties, with their exhibition American Art since 1960,showing 48 works of art. The catalog cover, shown above, is a reproduction of a major portion of a silkscreen poster measuring 34.75 inches x 25.5 inches made for the exhibition by painter Robert Indiana at the American Poster Company in New York in an edition of 2000. Looking at the index above of the works represented, we get a clear idea of the variety of art produced from kinetic sculpture by Wen-ying Tsai to photographs showing work by Christo. The catalog also includes three important essays.aabb20This topic will be continued in a future post.