Much attention has been given to The National Gallery’s architecture and collection, but less so are the equally beautiful exhibition catalogues and publications coming out from Singapore’s latest arts destination. While printed books may seem archaic in today’s digital world, they remain the best medium—for now—to allow visitors to take home the vivid artworks they encounter during their visits to the museum.
This was struck me after encountering Somewhere Else’s design for Seeing the Kites Again, a publication showcasing the expressive calligraphic strokes of artist Wu Guanzhong. The different paper types, the custom typography, and considered layout all come together to produce a handsome publication worthy of this artist.
The studio led by Yong has also produced an equally evocative pair of books for Wu’s Beauty Beyond Form and artist Chua Ek Kay’s After the Rain.
Holding up the National Gallery’s two inaugural exhibitions on Singapore and Southeast Asian art respectively, both covering the 19th century to present, is a modern frame designed by H55 Studio. In creative director Hanson Ho’s typical restrained and minimal approach, Siapa Nama Kamu? Art in Singapore since the 19th century(Malay for “What is your name?”) is reduced to a single line to be filled in, while Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia since the 19th centuryhas its title visualised with Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar’s statement on the gap between the desire for national independence and its achievement in political terms debossed onto the cover.
Besides the catalogues, the National Gallery has also made an effort to produce research titles and children’s publications. The former is best represented by a collection of essays on arts and culture by pioneering Nanyang artist Liu Kang, elegantly packaged by The Press Room in a gold, black and white reader.
Of the many titles that have given Singapore illustrators the chance to introduce art to children, Warm Nights, Deathless Days,Sonny Liew’s take on artist Georgette Chen that comes in a thoughtful design of ampulets is a standout.
Whether you get all judgy about book covers or not, recently we’ve been wondering if book covers alone are enough to tell us something deeper about a culture. Then we discovered (and instantly began drooling over) some 1,000 vintage dust jackets and bindings in The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic (Taschen), a visually stunning catalogue of Berlin’s nascent book art culture between the world wars.
From illustrated works to typographic designs, and Art Deco to proto-modernist styles, the book is a library of eye-catching covers from some 250 Berlin-based publishers. Together, they show how book cover design from 1919–1933 in Berlin was influenced by the important movements of the period—Expressionism, Realism, New Objectivity, Constructivism, and photography—and retell how this young German republic was what the book’s editor Jürgen Holstein calls “a testing ground for modernity” until the second world war cruelly ended it all.
I was invited to speak on the topic of local publishing at Allscript x Comman Man Coffee Roaster’s “50 Titles” event last weekend. Yanda of Do Not Design selected for this event 50 examples of contemporary local books and magazines. Below is my response, a presentation on some of the titles and what we can learn about designers expanding their role in Singapore’s publishing scene.
I recently moved back to Singapore from New York. One of the things my girlfriend noticed was how difficult it was to pack my collection of architecture and design books into shipping boxes. Anyone who buys them knows how this genre of books come in all shapes and sizes, and seldom fit neatly into a box. In a sense, design books tend to emphasise a quality of difference, and I hope to explore this element in my presentation on contemporary architecture and design publishing from Singapore.
As a journalism graduate, one thread that attracted me while researching for this book was the rise of independent publishing in Singapore. From the mid to late 2000s, designers were putting out a trickle of local books and magazines, including Underscore, Brckt,The Design Society Journal,and kult. The periodical Singapore Architecthad also just undergone a revamp under Kelley Cheng of The Press Room. Incidentally, this issue (#287) is her last as there is a new team coming on.
Designers who traditionally came at the end to give form to a publication are now creating the content, either by themselves or commissioning writers. It isn’t entire new nor unique to Singapore, but there is certainly a new generation of local designers who are putting together niche books and magazines all by themselves instead of trying to convince big name publishers to do them. With designers expanding their roles, what differences have they brought to publishing in Singapore?