Year in review: Books

Magma’s Marc Valli charts the book publishing highlights of the year

Visual art books tend to come out in waves. Last year we had three titles on sketchbooks. This year, the trend is for paper, paper-art, collage, pop-ups, etc.

With the credit crunch, publishers seemed to have become more cautious, wisely avoiding big, expen­sive coffee table tomes in order to favour smaller, cheaper formats. And some publishers have returned to the idea of books with proper content (yes, books with ideas!) from small, manifesto-like affairs to how-to books. A favourite in that category would have to be Studio Culture from Unit Editions; clearly the product of a passionate interest in the design scene.

Other publishers have favoured light-hearted, jokey books that try to reach out to a wider audience through clever copy, funny graphics and illustrations. Benrik have established themselves as the masters of this weird genre and many others have jumped on the bandwagon.

Lastly, another emerging trend of 2009, which almost goes against what I said above, is the return of the photography book. The last few years have been very poor in terms of what was published in photography. But the past couple of months have made up for it: from Nick Knight’s mono­graph, books by Lewis Blackwell for Chronicle [see p52], to Edward Burtynsky’s Oil, selling fast at £87! So, from all that, here are my ten books of 2009….

Little People In The City: The Street Art of Slinkachu
Boxtree; £10
Why are we so fasci­nated by minia­tures and figurines? Is it because they create a shift in perspective? There’s some­thing both poetic and entranc­ing about Slinkachu’s pictures. Magma’s bestseller this year.

Made & Sold
Laurence King; £19.95
Put together by design acti­vists FL@33, this book looks at how artists, designers and illustrators have started making and selling their own products; mugs, tees, toys and prints. The trend has certainly made my job as a retailer more interesting.

Redstone Press; £9.95
Julian Rothstein is a master in the art of unearthing out-of-copyright popular treas­ures, which look as exciting today as when they were first produced. Here he brings us the work of two great Mexican print­makers: Manuel Manilla (1830–1895) and JG Posada (1852–1913).

Art Direction Explained, At Last!
Laurence King; £22.50
I know it had a bad review in CR [Oct], but I must say I still found plenty of things that I could learn from this book. They were pretty basic things, but it made reading it all the more enjoyable.

Nick Knight
Collins Design; £50
I’m not normally attracted to fashion photography but Nick Knight’s work
tran­scends all the limita­tions of the field, as well as those of his medium. He’s
an artist with a universal appeal and we had been waiting for a book-form update on his experiments for some time now. (Rose, 2003, shown, top right).

Elephant Magazine
Frame; £12.99
I confess: I’m the editor of this. Still, I thought I would mention it here as we are trying to fill the gap between contemporary and commer­cial art. I believe the most interesting developments happen somewhere in the centre and there is a path – a fascinating and twisted path – running right through the middle.

Regular Graphic Design Today
Gestalten; £45
A good old-fashioned graphic design showcase with lots of interesting work. With a preface by François Rappo of l’ecal, the book looks at the evolution of graphic practise in recent years, both in terms of stylistic and more practical terms. (Work from Regular shown, right, in second and third spreads from top).

Gestalten £40
Visual art titles very often come out in themes (three books on sketch­­books last year). 2009’s main trend was for art made out of paper and I think Papercraft has the widest and sharpest selection of work (see p35).

Build-On: Converted Architecture and Transformed Buildings
Gestalten; £45
A new block popping out of a fortress wall; a prefab being inserted into a ruin – I’m not sure why, but there’s some­thing immensely compel­ling in seeing this combination of age-old and brand-new architectural developments.

Corporate Diversity: Swiss Graphic Design & Advertising by Geigy, 1940–1970
Lars Müller; £36

Who would have thought a book on design for the Swiss chemical industry could turn into a design best­seller? This book is proof that inspired, intelli­gent books sell, even if their focus isn’t on the latest craze.

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