SINCE FIRST seeing this large format, 400-page "museum [of graphic design] without walls," I have persuaded several friends to buy copies for their own libraries. It was hardly a challenge to do so, since even the briefest exposure to this rich and wide-ranging selection of more than 460 historic layouts makes it an irresistible find. According to the dust jacket, its Czech-born author (an art historian and museum curator) spent more than 20 years collecting the material for it, a claim that’s entirely credible when one considers how infrequently (if ever) we witness detailed images of such memorable page layouts as the first edition of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767); Stephane Mallarme’s "A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chance" (Cosmopolis, 1897); Pierre Bonnard’s rendition of Alfred Jarry’s Almanac of Pere Ubu (1901); any and all of the interesting work of Josef Vachal; and Bruno Munari's interpretation of The Lyrical Watermelon by Tullio d'Albisola (1943). These few are of course in addition to a feast of more familiar delights by Oskar Kokoschka, Kurt Schwitters, Piet Zwart, Alexander Rodchenko, and others. The book's trilingual written text (with side-by-side translations in English, French, and German) is no less interesting. I learned, for example, that El Lissitzky "compared inventions in the field of information traffic to that of vehicular traffic, drawing an analogy between speech and the upright walk, between the letter and the wheel, and between Guttenberg's movable type and the wagon pulled by animal force." In addition, I loved the discussion of the eccentric inventions of American poet Robert Carlton Brown (called Bob Brown), who in 1929 concocted a curious "reading machine," by which he proposed to rennovate the activity of reading: Just as cinema had progressed to the "talkies," said Brown, it was high time for reading and writing to embrace technology, and to enter the age of the "readies." The volume's text and plates are grouped in twelve chapter-like partitions, with the contents organized by style, intent, and method. The result is a vivid reminder of the progression of Modernist art and design in relation to concurrent social events such as printing technology (The Photomechanical Page), motion pictures (The Cinematic Page), psychoanalysis (The Aesthetic of the Unconscious), and the inevitable horrors of war (Dada: Strategies of Subversion). Although at least two years have passed since this book was published, there is an eerie appropriateness in the quote with which it opens. It credits the Hungarian Bauhaus designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy with having once said that "One man invents printing with movable type, another photography, a third screenprinting and stereotype, the next electrotype, phototype, the celluloid plate hardened by light." Despite such phenomenal progress, Moholy concludes, "Men still kill one another, they have not yet understood how they live…"  


 



 

All reviews are copyright © by Roy R. Behrens 

Avant-Garde Page Design 1900-1950 by Jaroslav Andel. New York: Delano Greenidge Editions, 2002.ISBN 0929445090.

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