Emerald Cities: The Catalogue

Some of the Asian Art Museum’s books are designed by our very small in-house staff, while others are outsourced. This one was designed by Tag Savage of Wilsted & Taylor, and it is a delight.

One of the issues we regularly encounter with the museum’s publications is that most American designers are strongly influenced by a Japanese aesthetic, while they are likely to know little about the design aesthetics of other Asian cultures. Even within the East Asian area, for example, we must often correct an initial Japanese orientation in designs of books on Chinese or Korean subjects.

So when it comes to nineteenth-century art from Burma and Siam, most designers come at the project from a starting point that is very foreign to the topic. Tag and Christine Taylor listened to our concerns and came up with this design, which I think fits this subject better than any other book I have seen.

Above at right is the front cover, and at top is the full cover, including the front and back cover, spine, and flaps. The front cover features an object from Thailand and the back cover a detail of an embroidered and appliqued textile from Burma. The background of the cover (and jacket in the case of the hardcover edition) will be a kind of coppery gold metalic. There is an outline pattern on the flaps that is drawn from one of the objects in the exhibition (the pattern also runs discreetly through the spine). The hardcover jacket will include a French fold (it will be folded over at top and bottom). The decorative initial on the front flap picks up an element from the interior that is drawn from art of the region and period the book covers.

A challenge in this book was to come up with a design that is compatible with the decorative, sensual, spiritual, and ornate character of the art, without resorting to a proliferation of dingbats and flourishes—without creating too busy a page, full of gratuitous distractions. The title spread immediately establishes the decorative yet clean aesthetic of the book, which respects the art while keeping clarity of content foremost and serving the text rather than overshadowing it.

Full-page bleeds of details from the artworks convey their bling factor.

Here is a spread from one of the essays. At left is a pair of maps that I made for the book incorporating a color scheme that I thought would be consistent with the design. At right is one of several historical photos that appear in the essays.

Tag made a handsome chart that juxtaposes dates of the Burmese and the Siamese rulers so that it is easy to see how their reigns correspond.

The catalogue section is divided into three parts corresponding to the regions covered in the exhibition (central Thailand, northern Thailand, and Burma; more on this in a subsequent post). Each section is signaled by an opening spread that features a decorative pattern characteristic of the region. The section’s contents are outlined on this spread as an aid to the reader (running feet on the catalogue pages reinforce the structure).

Below is a spread from the catalogue section. Here you can see that in some views we silhouetted the objects while in others we retained the artful background blends of museum photographer Kaz Tsuruta.

Another example:

In good book design, such seemingly mundane elements as the copyright page, the bibliography, and the index get the same attention as the more dramatic pages. This is the opening of this book’s bibliography.

Finally, I believe that all well-made books should have a colophon containing details of their manufacture. This is the final page of the book.

I think this book will be as handsome as it will be useful. It is being printed by Regal Printing in Hong Kong.

If you want to see more Asian Art Museum titles, you can visit our store’s book page. Our books are available from our store and are distributed to the trade by Tuttle Publishing.

19 Responses to “Emerald Cities: The Catalogue”

  1. Dorothy Gregor  on June 27th, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Beautiful job of introducing us to the catalog–and the show.
    Thank you.

  2. xensen  on June 27th, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Thank you, Dorothy. Stay tuned for a lot more on this show!

  3. peattie  on June 27th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Tom: lovely to see the totality of the book considered in the design. Can’t wait to hold the actual book in my hands!

  4. xensen  on June 27th, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Thanks, Dave! (Peattie is David Peattie, the publisher of Whereabouts Press).

  5. nico  on June 27th, 2009 at 11:42 am

    When I was going through the Tuttle catalog I had one of my “well, HELLO THERE, handsome!” moments. And then I realized, oh, that’s OUR catalog.
    Well of course it is.

  6. namastenancy  on June 27th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    H-E-L-L-O gorgeous! I never thought that much about the different regional aesthetic approaches as applied to design. The book looks exquisite and I can hardly wait to see the show.

  7. xensen  on June 28th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Thank you, nico and namastenancy. Like you, I am anxious to see the finished book. We will still be proofing color in July. The press check will be in August–at the Asian we press check all of our titles–and the surface shipment of books is scheduled to arrive at the museum October 3, barring any delays with customs.

  8. namastenancy  on June 28th, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    How did you decide on what type face to use? I can’t see it that well but it looks like it works beautifully with the more elaborate art from Burma.

  9. xensen  on June 28th, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    The typefaces are Perpetua and Storm Baskerville. Really there wasn’t a lot of agonizing over the faces. Tag proposed them and they seemed fine. Baskerville has a 19th-century quality (the main period of the artworks) and a degree of verticality that seems appropriate to the subject. If might not have occurred to me to pair it with Perpetua, which is a more modern face (designed in the late 1920 by Eric Gill) that has a kind of chiseled quality, but the two work very well together.

  10. bittermelon  on June 29th, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    If this book was walking down the street, I most certainly would be tempted to whistle at it, but would quickly realize that such a classy thing of beauty deserves more in the form of praise.

  11. sfmike  on June 29th, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Looks lovely. Why are you printing it in Hong Kong, though, rather than locally?

  12. xensen  on June 29th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks, Mike. We support local printers and do a large amount of print business locally. Unfortunately, the astronomical costs of printing a book like this locally would make it impossible to do at all.

  13. 7junipers.com » Friday roundup  on July 24th, 2009 at 6:04 am

    […] Cataloguing art from Burma and Siam : Via the Asian Art Museum blog […]

  14. jintora  on August 21st, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    i here by to stand on firm ground, that thai culture and relgious arts based on history and myths, that their fore father agenda with cambodia tradition will continued. my adoration of the bird man are very intricately done. i strongly voted on this art as the best of both culture khmer and thai

  15. jintora  on August 21st, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    the art of gods, very intricate fashion.

  16. NikkiYeager  on February 22nd, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    The pictures of the book are beautiful, but hardly do it justice. Once I read the description of the cover and materials it really blew my mind. Have you been to Southeast Asia? I went Cambodia and it completely changed my art.

  17. Office Design  on July 30th, 2010 at 3:50 am

    Successful job of introducing us to the catalog–and the show.

  18. Tomi Yuvutu  on July 8th, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Superb, thanks a lot.

  19. Toni Vallen in London  on November 21st, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Perfect piece of work you have done, this website is really cool with fantastic info .

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