The new Cahiers d’Art identity plays on memory

M/M (Paris) referenced the historic journal’s seminal cover design to create a visual identity fitting for its second life as a publisher and gallery

Founded by Christian Zevros in 1926, Cahier’s d’Art established itself as an influential journal that provided a space for the presentation and critical discussion of modern art in the 20th century, while popularising the work of luminaries such as Max Ernst, Fernand Léger and Marcel Duchamp.

Cahiers d’Art shuttered in 1960 after 97 issues and more than 30 years of operations, but it was revived once again in 2012 after it was bought by Staffan Ahrenberg. Today, it takes the form of a journal, co-edited by Sam Keller and Hans Ulrich Obrist, as well as a publishing house and a gallery.

To strengthen its position as an independent name within publishing and the art world, Ahrenberg turned to M/M (Paris), the creative practice run by Mathias Augustyniak and Michaël Amzalag, to create a new identity.

May 1926 issue of Cahiers d’Art; All images courtesy M/M (Paris)

“We discussed it and I said, ‘You’ve been doing great things since you’ve been working on Cahiers d’Art and revitalising it, but I think there is maybe something missing that at least sends a signal to everyone that it’s Cahiers d’Art, but it’s a new era for Cahiers d’Art,’” Augustyniak says of his conversations with Ahrenberg. “So it’s respecting the past, being aware of what’s happening today, and then saying, OK, what will happen in ten years?”

Augustyniak decided to lean into Zevros’ historic design of Cahiers d’Art that became a “template” for the journal for years to come. “We had this intuition of going back to the roots of Cahiers d’Art without becoming nostalgic.”

New Cahiers d’Art identity by M/M (Paris)

He looked to the square graphic windows introduced in these early cover designs, which originally housed details of each issue like the price and contents. Now, these are standalone symbols of their own, surrounded by angular block shapes that suggest the shape of a 3D magazine.

“I don’t like so much [the term] ‘icon’, but it’s a very memorable image,” he says of the rectangular cut-outs. At this year’s Artgenève fair, the gallery incorporated the symbol into its booth design, showing how it can be a compelling device in a physical environment.

Top and above: the new identity displayed at Artgenève

The lettering, meanwhile, is an evolution of what came before, though with certain details adapted. The original type, he says, was beautiful, but when reproduced, the fine details were lost in appearance and in spirit. “The idea was to recreate this extremely high contrast between thick and thin, and that’s why we came up with this solution of making a stencil. It’s so thin that some parts are missing,” he says.

Not only does this capture some of the fineness seen in the original typeface; it’s also an allusion to the stop-start journey that Cahiers d’Art has been on over the last century. “[When] you have two ideas or two things that are close to each other, your brain and your eyes makes the continuation,” he says. “So it’s playing with the idea of gaps in memory.”

Detail view of the typography developed for Cahiers d’Art

It’s emblematic of the entire process, which has involved filling in gaps of their own in order to transform its design heritage into a working identity fit for today. “How do you brand something that at the beginning was never intended to be branded?” he says. “This is also very important because sometimes when you brand something … that life suddenly goes away from the object or the institution that you are branding.”

He believes the new identity fulfils functional requirements – namely giving a recognisable stamp to an independent company operating in a competitive space – while maintaining an element of intrigue. “It’s the same when Cahiers d’Art was created. It was extremely well produced but still very experimental. I think that’s also our belief.”