For the exhibition 1946, 1947, 1948, fourteen experts have contributed a personal selection of books from the years 1946–1948; each selection thematises a different aspect of the history of the book in Switzerland. The book animations presented here supplement the publication, which appears in spring 2013 with Niggli Verlag.
In 1943 Jan Tschichold proposed a book competition that would recognise annually the most beautiful Swiss books – yet already in the years 1946, 1947 and 1948, the competition was interrupted and books were neither judged nor recognised. These three forgotten years inspired the exhibition which thematised the diverse aspects of book design in the 1940s, on the one hand, and on the other, inspired discussion of contemporary book design and production within a series of ten events.
Peter Bichsel, book antiquarian in Zurich, describes in his selection the diversity of book production. The books that he chooses are all meticulously designed, and at the same time are expressions of a special feat by the publisher. At the time of publication, the first editions of plays by Max Frisch or Friedrich Dürrenmatt and especially the Holunderpresse’s small lyric series constituted a financial risk. In this sense, Peter Bichsel’s choice can be considered praise for the well-made book, as well as for the individual achievement of the publisher.
Julia and Klaus Born
Graphic designer Julia Born and artist Klaus Born question the criteria of having to come up with a “correct” selection, given the thousands of books published in the years 1946–48. They therefore consciously limit themselves to a few resources, and arrive at their choices via conversations about book quality, possible selection criteria and, moreover, how a book from the 1940s might ultimately be valued today. The selected books are representative of this process and show a cross-section of book production from the years in question – whereby a design icon such as the book Neger in Amerika holds an equal rank as that of an everyday telephone book.
Hans Burkhardt’s selection originates from the archive of the bookbindery BUBU in Mönchaltorf. The history of the firm, founded in 1943, reflects the developments in book production, and also of consumers’ demands. The selection represents the situation in the 1940s in which simplicity was the rule and one often worked in serial production and with the same materials – quite the opposite to today, in which generally special requests are the rule, according to Burkhardt.
Graphic designer Nicolas Eigenheer set off on the search for books from French-speaking Switzerland, whose design allows comparisons with examples by modern designers such as Lohse, Gerstner or Bill. His conclusion was that a formally similar book design in Romandy could not be found. His selection finally contained two books that were perhaps not formally similar, yet in their textual structure and organisation and in their illustrations showed clear affinities to the examples from German-speaking Switzerland.
Graphic designer Max Huber is closely tied to Ticino’s graphical culture – although he made his career for the most part on the other side of the border, namely in Milan. In his selection, Davide Fornari follows the works of Max Huber and shows three books published by Giulio Einaudi Editors, for whom Huber had designed numerous covers. With his excellent graphic design works, Max Huber had and still has a formidable influence on the work of young designers in Italy and Ticino.
Mirjam Fischer and Hans Rudolf Gabathuler
Art historian Mirjam Fischer and photo book collector Hans Rudolf Gabathuler together agree on a selection that represents the most important phenomena of the photo book. These are, on the one hand, classical photography books, reportages, or (war) documentaries, but on the other hand, books in which the personalities of the photographer plays the prominent role.
Jost Hochuli and Ursula Hochuli
The selection of the two graphic designers Jost and Ursula Hochuli illustrates the differences in book design of the 1940s. With works by Jan Tschichold, Rudolf Hostettler and Richard Paul Lohse, they show how asymmetric and symmetric layouts, depending on the desired effect, can achieve a good result. One of the books that they chose can be understood with a wink of the eye: Das Dschungelabenteuer, asymmetrically arranged by Tschichold, is evidence that the dogma of symmetry and asymmetry was not always followed, even by the presumably strictest representatives.
Art historian and expert in the history of the artist book, Philippe Kaenel chose for his selection six representatives of the illustrated book. They are richly illustrated books with drawings by significant artists and accompanying texts by equally well-known writers, collected on folded sheets, layered in a box. In their form, they do not necessarily correspond with the idea of the well-made book as the competition might represent; they are, nevertheless, fascinating examples of printed matter considering the choice of materials, and also the quality of the artistic contributions.
François Rappo, typographer and book designer, describes the understanding of the beautiful, well-crafted book, which the competition wished to promote, as an ideal concept that is essentially German-Swiss. In French-speaking Switzerland of the same time, the artist book was practiced much more. His selection arrives at one of the last examples of a category that he calls Edition de la Résistance. With a surprisingly rational typographic organisation, the book has a remarkably strong expression.
At the beginning of the 1940s, Peter Schifferli founded Arche Verlag in Zurich. From the start, he had an important relationship to the canton of Ticino and in the course of the years, diverse books with famous writers were created in and around Ascona, where Peter Schifferli lived after 1956. His son Christoph Schifferli, himself a publisher and collector of artist books, ran the archive of the publishing house and, for his selection, recommends a few titles from Arche Verlag, which were exemplary of Peter Schifferli’s achievements, but also deserve recognition for their carefully crafted, simple design and production.
Historian Andreas Schwab is an expert in the history of Monte Verita in Ascona and is most knowledgeable about the archive that Harald Szeemann created in 1978 on the occasion of the Monte Verita exhibition. From this archive, Andreas Schwab selects small, yet fine publications explaining the mood that predominated in the Monte Verita colony in the 1940s. The publications also show the numerous cultural and spiritual influences that at the time found a new home in Ticino.
Graphic designer Nicole Udry thematises the character of book production in Romandy, which did not become fully active until the end of the 1940s, as having profited from the aura of French publishing production. In French-speaking Switzerland, publishers such as Albert Skira or Henry-Louis and Albert Mermod realised excellent artist books with significant French-speaking authors and artists. Nicole Udry chose four books distinguished by famous authors, but which also display above all design finesse.
With his selection, Felix Wieder thematises the discussions among graphic designers and typographers ca. 1940, referring thereby to his collection of books ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s, which impressively illustrate the creation, or self definition, of Swiss Style. An important anecdote in the history of Swiss book design is the public debate between Max Bill and Jan Tschichold in 1946 concerning symmetry in book design. Max Bill’s article in the journal SGM is represented in Felix Wiedler’s selection, as well as further works by Jan Tschichold and Max Bill.
Fabio Soldini’s selection explains book production in Ticino from a perspective that makes reference to the histories of the individual texts. Why was the book published, who were its intended readers, which publisher initiated the book and at what point in time? The first book chosen by Soldini is a text by Ernest Hemingway that had been banned in Italy during the second world war and was published in Ticino in 1946. The second is a catalogue of buildings from Ticino, an early example of a new consciousness and the desire to protect Ticino’s cultural inheritance.