Ashamedly, on visiting large exhibitions at the Tate, the Barbican, the Stedelijk or the Whitney, personal excitement grows at the possibility of browsing through the exhibition catalogue at the end. Huge tomes of artwork, where the curation of the show aligns with the design, combined with snippets of the artist’s life from themselves or those close to them. Chances are, if you too have a habit for falling in love with exhibition publications, it’s probably because they are designed by Copenhagen-based Studio Claus Due.
If you visit its website, the studio’s documentation of the books it has designed are the heroes, displayed through photographs that show the weight they carry even two dimensionally. For instance, Slow Graffiti, a publication designed for Alex Da Corte’s solo show at Secession in Vienna earlier this year, is a book wrapped up in a elastic band that you’re desperate to unravel. Claus, the creative director and designer at the studio which takes his name, met the artist back when designing a catalogue for 50 Wigs, “a show containing 50 of Andy Warhols’ original wigs, beautifully placed in a transparent acrylic box,” he explains. The museum “pulled the plug on the funding” for 50 Wigs but the pair decided to publish it anyway, and worked together again this year on Alex’s latest show.
“The exhibition and the catalogue have different elements to it,” the designer says. “A video and more than 50 unique objects specifically produced for the show,” were the main counterparts of the exhibition, difficult to represent in a book. Consequently, the pair decided to split the book into three. “The main catalogue is split in two. On the left pages the video Slow Graffiti is shown, with the entire dialogue so you can actually ‘read’ the entire film.” The right pages in turn display the curated objects displayed in the show. “This gave me the chance to create some fun dialogues between the film and the objects. Throughout the book and in and out of the objects is also one long e-mail conversation between Alex and the writer Bruce Hanley.”
Another written piece for Slow Graffiti takes an alternative route in terms of the design: “The writer Bob Nickas was asked to do a text piece for the book, but decided to do 64 collages instead — a mix of mood boards for the show and parts of interviews done in the past with the artist,” explains Claus. “This in is itself became so unique in its own aesthetics that we decided to print this in an additional booklet. The two books are then held together with a yellow rubber band, the texture of which was a reference to a big vinyl yellow egg in the show.”
When working with an artist on a book, Claus purposefully works closely and personally with them. “If at all possible I always meet up with an artist before designing their book, visiting their ‘world’, getting into the process of making an exhibition, seeing and feeling their references is very important to me,” he says. “It’s also important to me that the books I do are about the artist and his or her artwork, and not about the design.”
A further example of Claus’ successful approach to catalogue design is Academy of Tal R, documenting the work of Danish artist Tal R, a painter, sculptor and designer of more than 50 artist books himself. Due to the artist’s background in publications, “we quickly decided that this book should not at all look like an artist book,” says Claus. “It was important that both the exhibition and catalogue would be the institutions [in this case, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art] view on the artist, who had just turned 50 and has a huge body of work.” Instead of mirroring the work, “crazy in colours and shapes,” Claus and Tal made it clean, “making it look modern and all focus is on the work.” Yet hints at the artist’s sensibilities in painting the sides of the pages yellow, as “Tal is almost always painting right to the edges of his paintings and often on the sides too.”
Studio Claus Due also displays its ability to honour an artist’s work after they’ve passed away, shown in Master of Stoneware, a tome on the ceramic artist and graphic designer Axel Salto, who also created “beautiful fabrics, illustrations and endpapers in the 1950s,” says Claus. “Through the Danish Design Museum we got access to a lot of Salto’s old publications, and from these found inspiration in how to design the catalogue. He also did his own catalogues in the 1950s, and we thought it could be fun to use his own way of showing his work,” utlilising the yellow and green the artist used, and showcasing an illustration of his on the cover.
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.