It’s finally here! After covering their exhibition opening back in September, the delights of Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf return, Il Sarcofago di Spitzmaus e Altri Tesori, an artist book designed by New York design agency 2×4.
Taking on the form of a “museum in a box”, the artist book is a gold mine for likeminded meticulous collectors, containing both Wes Anderson and partner Juman Malouf’s signature eccentric styles in its curation of the exhibition. Open up the cloth-bound portfolio and find books, photographs, conversations, illustrations… and a recipe card for a special desert offered at the Wes Anderson designed cafe, Bar Luce, at Fondazione Prada in Milan.
The exhibition – which was originally displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna before travelling to Fondazione Prada in Milan – features archived objects and artworks dated across a vast timespan of over 5,000 years. It even includes handpicked peculiar objects such as a mummified shrew in a sarcophagus – from which the exhibition obtained its name. The shrew then features embossed in gold foil on one of the front covers – and it’s these tiny, bizarre details that weave a playful narrative throughout the book.
After a catalogue had already been produced for the original exhibition in Vienna, the book commissioned by the Prada Foundation had more room to play. Michael Rock, the partner and creative director of 2×4 says it’s “a more conceptual approach to a catalogue” which pushed them “to create something distinct”. Borne out of conversations with Wes and Juman, as well as associate curator Mario Mainetti, Michael explains 2×4’s approach “was to create something that represented the process as much as the end result,” he says. “We explored many, many different ways to achieve this before pursuing the final version.”
Embracing the couple’s careful and curious art direction, the book was inspired by works such as Marcel Duchamp’s Boite-en-Valise as well as cherished family board-games. “The main references are the tools of the archive itself: the paraphernalia that surrounds the objects," Michael says. In a trademark of Wes’ films the book is made with painstaking precision, using materials and processes found within archival spaces. For instance, “various elements are bound or wrapped in materials you would easily recognise in the library: book cloth, oaktag, manila folders, bible paper, etc” adds Michael. It also combines the marvellous minds of the couple, adopting Wes’ utilitarian colour palette, also chosen from the walls of exhibition, and typewritten typography, while including Juman’s delicately deadpan pencil drawn illustrations.
It’s this box within a box, within a box, feel that the collaboration aimed to create. “Everything is embedded in everything else to give the sense of depth and encasement,” says Michael. Inside, readers will find a long list of gems from “a complete checklist of the project as presented in Vienna and Milan,” and conversations with “various archivists, registrars and collections’ curators, an introduction with Wes, and pencil portraits by Juman,” Michael continues.
Within this long list of fascinating details, Michael admits it’s difficult to choose a particular favourite, noting how “the poster with all the objects is overwhelming in an immersive way,” but also how “Juman’s drawings feel very close to the delicacy of the pencil original, the mosaics manage to replicate the depth of the display, and the little green archive box is adorable.” Finally, settling on how 2×4’s absolute favourite aspect is simple “the way it all fits together”. So pop on some of those little white cotton gloves and explore this miniature museum yourselves.