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.
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.
Leave a Reply