Studio Claus Due on working with Arthur Jafa for the artist’s new publication, Magnumb
With the internationally renowned artist’s new exhibition on the horizon, Copenhagen-based Studio Claus Due was tasked with creating a new publication reflecting Jafa’s groundbreaking work.
- Jyni Ong
- 13 April 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
As a company that predominantly works with museums, artists and galleries, the past year has thrown up many a challenge for Studio Claus Due. Based in Copenhagen, it is well known for its print creations, encapsulating acclaimed artists and institutions in beautifully designed publications. Previously, it has designed works for the Hayward Gallery, Bang & Olufsen, Edmund de Waal, Tal R and Snøhetta, just to name a few. But with the pandemic affecting the art sector massively, Claus tells us, “I had a few jobs cancelled or postponed”, something that gradually (and thankfully) seems to be “getting back to normal”.
Despite a few lulls, Claus was tasked with an enviable project, working with the renowned Arthur Jafa on a new catalogue for the exhibition Magnumb at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in the Danish capital. On show from April to August this year, the striking catalogue documents Jafa’s best-known works, including the seminal Love is the Message, the Message is Death. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1960, the American artist gained worldwide fame with the artwork, an eight-minute film made up of videos and historical footage. It comments on the Black American experience and highlights the discrepancy between the fame and status of Black stars, and the treatment of the African-American population as a collective.
The exhibition also shows a variety of Jafa’s documentaries and features as both a director and camera operator, as well as music videos directed for the likes of Jay-Z and Solange. Claus says on his accompanying work for this exhibit: “The museum thought there was a need for a book about Jafa. There has been published books about his work before, but all previous books have all had the character of artists’ books really.” Claus, on the other hand, wanted to present something different.
The first step in the process was determining whether the catalogue would be from the point of view of the museum or from the artist. As Jafa has worked on a number of books himself in the past – he self-produced more than 40 “picture books” from 1990 to 2005 – Claus thought it would be a missed opportunity to not let him into the design process. Drawing inspiration from Toni Morrison’s The Black Book, published in 1974, Claus decided to present all of Jafa’s artworks on black, while other reference material would appear on white. “I wanted the book to have this almost claustrophobic feel to it,” he explains, “so I did the black frames throughout the entire book.” Using four different shades of black to create a subtle tonal reading experience, the book emphasises Jafa’s work while setting it in its context.
A collaboration between Claus, the museum and Jafa himself, the end publication is a “collage-like catalogue, a mix of source material, exhibition view and film stills,” according to Claus. “Arthur was happy with the look and feel of it.” Working with Jafa, Claus explains that “you really have to be on your toes”, as he is “such a fast thinker and makes associations so fast”, an evident trait seen across Jafa’s work. Claus recalls the creative process working with him: “He has collected thousands and thousands of images and every image or idea that we came up with led to a new idea. It was amazing – his references are in celebrity culture, music, movies, Black history, fashion. We talked Dapper Dan, Spandau Ballet, New Order, anything really. We had a laugh.”
Claus learned a lot from the collaboration, specifically how to be more free with his designs and “just work with it, not to be all strict and tied up in grids and rules of design,” he says. Miles Davis is one reference that frequently crops up in Jafa’s work, and the artist is very influenced by jazz, something Claus has taken from working with the influential artist. Throughout the publication, Claus tries to mirror the experience of viewing Jafa’s work, incorporating shades of graphic explicitness with tender, emotional moments too. He finally says of the work: “It’s rare that an artist is so involved in the content material as Jafa was on this, so you definitely get the feeling of his presence throughout the book.”
Later this spring, Claus will be working with an all-time hero Lawrence Weiner on a book about his connection with Denmark. He says of the project: “The hardest thing is to choose a typeface to go with his work – I know that Weiner has strong opinions about this. One thing is certain, it will not be Helvetica.”
GalleryStudio Claus Due in collaboration with Arthur Jafa and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Copyright © Studio Claus Due, 2021)
Studio Claus Due in collaboration with Arthur Jafa and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Copyright © Studio Claus Due, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.