We had the pleasure of working alongside James Goggin to craft a beautiful piece for the Krannert Art Museum showcasing their MetaModern exhibition. Produced almost entirely on our HP Indigo 7600 digital press, MetaModern is a prime example of what can be achieved using proper paper selection, print processes and unorthodox binding. Below is an interview we conducted with James to delve deeper into his design and thought processes.
The cover is made out of clear plastic and printed using white silkscreen ink. Within the Smyth sewn body is a variety of papers–ASTROBRIGHTS®, CLASSIC CREST®, Flo and Cougar®–printed in either CMYK or several hits of spot white digital ink.
Q: Why do you feel Krannert chose you for this project?
A: Early last year I was kindly introduced by email to the Krannert Art Museum by Cheryl Towler Weese of Studio Blue, a great Chicago design studio. As it happened, I was heading down to St. Louis the following week to visit another client, so I stopped in Champaign on the way, to meet the staff at KAM personally. We immediately hit it off, and I think the MetaModern exhibition’s subject of modernism being reinterpreted and critiqued is something that aligns with my own interests in design, architecture, and both modern and contemporary art.
Q: What was your thought process when coming up with the construction of the cover?
A: In dialogue with Kathleen Harleman, the director of KAM, and Katie Koca Polite, a curator at KAM, and the two exhibition curators, Judith Hoos Fox and Ginger Gregg Duggan, we actually went through quite a number of approaches and ideas for the cover. Some very simple, allowing the artworks themselves to provide evidence of a so-called “MetaModern” approach, and others where we tried to articulate the critical position of the curators, and in turn the book’s design, as an additional contribution to the overall conceptual discussion. The final result aligns slightly more with the latter direction, something deliberately dealing with notions of modernism, material, and what we might think of as “meta”. Playing with a diverse set of materials that relate to the original mid-century sources referenced by the artists in the show (plastic, chrome, colour) and applying them in quite obvious, often practical ways, to construct a book out of it. In turn, the construction attempts to illustrate this modular system in an honest way: open layers with various materials cut short to expose other materials, an open spine where strata of different papers are visible, and allowing various stocks to recur naturally in places dictated by a book construction logic of 16- or 8-page signatures. So, for example, a section divider on blue paper pops up again 8 pages later, interrupting a plates spread by artist Conrad Bakker. Not as a designer intervention, but simply because the circumstances of binding and production dictated it, and as the designer, I chose to embrace, and even emphasise, such constraints rather than hide them.
The clear welded plastic cover sleeve is not something I would often choose to do for a book, but it ended up having multiple roles which justified its use for me: the conceptual historical material aspect (mid-to-late century modernist product design) and, with its transparency for the exposed spine, a very basic function of protecting and holding the book together. In particular, the sleeve’s natural provision of pockets on the inside covers allowed us to slip in real postcards from Barbara Visser’s work in the show. Each catalogue has a different combination of cards, and I like the idea of an art catalogue, being an important historical document of what is ultimately a fleeting exhibition, having this unexplained informal gesture, almost like someone stole cards from the artwork in the gallery and stuffed them into the catalogue for the reader to discover. The cards came directly from Barbara’s studio, they’re not reprints, so the catalogue is quite rare in that it really does have actual to scale artworks from the show in the book, not just the usual printed photographic reproductions one expects.
Q: Where did you look for inspiration when designing this piece? Are there any artists or designers that influence your work?
A: With this type of project, I’m inspired by all aspects of the process. Ongoing debates and discussions with the curators and museum staff; dialogue with the printers about materials, inks, binding; by researching and reading about the artists, and of course reading the essays. So I guess if I’m inspired by artists and designers, it’s often by their own approaches that in themselves draw on a wide range of circumstantial influences, which, through various processes, inform works that result in logical yet unexpected results, and sometimes even unexpected roles that go beyond particular expectations of the given discipline in which they operate. So historically, I’ve drawn inspiration from polymathic figures like William Morris, W.A. Dwiggins, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Sori Yanagi, Charles and Ray Eames, Edward Wright, Deborah Sussman. If I think about contemporary artists, the MetaModern exhibition happens to have a number of artists I admire: Elmgreen & Dragset, Fernanda Fragateiro, Josiah McElheny, Simon Starling, Barbara Visser, among others.
Q: What was your biggest challenge when designing this piece and how did you overcome it?
A: Although the final publication looks pretty simple, it was actually a real headache to even get my first print spec together when I first started talking with printers. Trying to specify a huge number of ink types, paper stocks, envisage how they would be composed as signatures, how to match the essays and plates with the right page counts, and so on! Keeping track of that and trying to communicate it all clearly without making mistakes. Luckily Classic was able to decode my constantly shifting specifications and request, and guide me along the way. I seem to always find myself being drawn to particular paper stocks that turn out to have just been discontinued, so there was definitely a need for agility and improvisation with choice of paper and colours. Fortunately KAM and the curators were onboard with me and flexible to adapting to various changes that popped up now and then during the process.
Q: The typeface on the cover is extremely unique. What is it and how did you arrive at the decision to use it?
A: I deliberated over, discussed with the curators, and tried a number of different typefaces for this project. Often with art catalogues, my choice of type is informed by some deliberate rationales and references (by history, or by form, for example) but also chosen to disappear in a way too, to not provide any distraction from the subject matter. I tend to work mostly with basic, sometimes obscure,19th or 20th century type, very rarely with contemporary designs (unless they are my own). But as with the materials described above, we all collectively felt that the type really should have a certain stance or position, in the same manner as the curators and artists. So this typeface, Programme, released by type foundry Optimo in 2013 and designed by Swiss designers Maximage, whom I know from my time teaching at ECAL in Lausanne, felt appropriate in its formally subtle yet odd manner. The design is notable for its own kind of meta approach, where its shapes show evidence of self-awareness: that the type, although usually printed, has digital, binary origins. When writing about Programme, the artist and designer Jürg Lehni described how, of course, “the role of the computer is that of a machine simulating other machines or processes as a sort of a meta-tool”, and the typeface ultimately felt entirely logical for this project. Type as a meta-tool for MetaModern.
Q: What kind of feedback have you received on the book?
A: The nice thing about the final publication—confirmed by feedback from the museum, curators, artists, and general public so far—is that in spite of many different initial design ideas, and the improvised changes in paper types, colours, materials during the process, it now feels like it couldn’t have been designed in any other way. The finished piece is the most appropriate form that a catalogue for an exhibition by these curators with these artists could possibly take. I’m always concerned with a number of factors regarding the way a book is received: I want it to be as accessible and inviting as possible to as wide an audience as possible, and also as appropriate as possible to the subject matter, respecting intellectual and conceptual depth of the writing and artworks. I firmly believe that these aspects don’t ever have to be mutually exclusive. So at the exhibition opening, I was pleased to see people enjoying the colours, the printing of the reproductions, the slightly strange binding, but to also receive positive feedback from the artists (even Conrad Bakker, the artist whose plates are disrupted by the blue paper signature wrap ending right in the middle of a spread of his paintings!)
If you'd like to learn more about this project feel free to contact us.