Thursday, June 20, 2024

Design Industry Celebrates Best in Books, Recognizing Volumes on Artists Wangechi Mutu, Shikeith, and Just Above Midtown

Winning selections included books dedicated to a variety of visual artists.


ONE Of THE MOST ANTICIPATED museum exhibitions of 2022 paid tribute to Just Above Midtown, the storied New York gallery space Linda Goode Bryant launched nearly half a century ago, providing a platform for Black artists when they were largely shut out of the city’s museums and white-owned galleries. “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) garnered rave reviews from art critics. The New York Times called the show “exhilarating.”

The catalog documenting the exhibition elicited praise, too, winning over design critics. AIGA is celebrating excellence in book design. Last week, the professional association for design, announced the results of its annual 50 Books | 50 Covers competition, recognizing the best designed books and book covers of 2022. “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” made the cut.

Deeming the catalog among the top 50 Books of 2022, the judges said: “This is a beautifully made book. Incredible content. One can tell that a lot of consideration and care were taken on how the design was going to elevate the content and subject matter. Every choice in the book, from the typography to the color choices elevates and amplifies the stories being told.” Kimberly Varella designed the “Just Above Midtown” catalog.

The winners also include the first monographs of artists Shikeith and Matthew Angelo Harrison and the exhibition catalogs “Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound,” published on the occasion of another recent MoMA show, and “Wangechi Mutu,” which accompanied the artist’s large-scale sculptural installation at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, N.Y.

A century ago in 1923, AIGA launched a Fifty Books of the Year competition and in 1995 expanded it, introducing 50 Books | 50 Covers. This year, a five-judge panel reviewed 487 entries from 27 countries. (Candidates submitted their projects for consideration in the book category, cover category, or both, and paid an entry fee.) Judges evaluated a range of factors in determining the best from a design perspective, including concept, innovation, images and illustration, typography, and information design.

“The strongest covers really connected to the content of the book, while the book designs displayed a penchant for material choices that really emphasized the physicality or object quality of the book.”
— Andrew Satake Blauvelt


50 BOOKS WINNER | “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces,” edited by Thomas (T.) Jean Lax and Lilia Rocio Taboada in collaboration with Linda Goode Bryant. | Design Firm/Agency: Content Object, Book Designer: Kimberly Varella | Published by Museum of Modern Art, New York/The Studio Museum in Harlem, 183 pages, paperback


“The jury and I were very impressed with both the quantity and quality of the entries this year, which made choosing only 50 extremely difficult. Having judged the competition before, I noticed a much greater diversity in the subject matter across all the categories, which was refreshing! This was apparent to me among the cookbooks for instance, which focused on diasporic cuisine or in the number of exhibition catalogs devoted to artists of color, for instance. The strongest covers really connected to the content of the book, while the book designs displayed a penchant for material choices that really emphasized the physicality or object quality of the book,” said Andrew Satake Blauvelt, director of Cranbrook Art Museum and chair of the 50 Books | 50 Covers jury.

“Among the trending techniques this year were use of exposed bindings and elaborate page sequencing and mixed paper choices. For me, there was a greater overall sophistication in book design, with a mix of aesthetically beautiful and graphically brash approaches in the final choices. While print quality and craft were high, sometimes typographic detailing stumbled.”

Summaries of the 50 Books and 50 Covers chosen note the design firms and book designers that worked on the projects, along with the trim size, binding specifications, typefaces, and even the kinds of paper used. Although, these details are not provided for all of the books.

Culture Type explored the books focused on visual art by or about Black people. A handful of these volumes were produced by Black designers, including Rush Jackson, who worked on Shikeith’s monograph; Silas Munro, one of the designers of “What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life: The Fade Resistance Collection”; and creative director Kelly Walters and designer Renald Louissaint, the team behind the groundbreaking anthology, “The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection.”

Some designers spearheaded projects, including Nigerian Italian illustrator and textile designer Diana Ejaita, who wrote and illustrated the children’s book “Olu & Greta.” Munro authored and co-designed “Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest” working with his firm, Polymode, where he is a partner.

The 100 winning books are added to the AIGA collection at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University’s Butler Library in New York. A selection of visual art books recognized by AIGA are featured below, along with some of the comments judges made about their design:


“An Alternative History of Photography,” by Phillip Prodger. | Published by Prestel Publishing, 256 pages, hardcover


An Alternative History of Photography

50 COVERS WINNER | Judges: “The cover really telegraphs the content of this book, looking at the overlooked, charting the less traveled paths through photographic histories.”

Design Firm/Agency: Mues Design, London, Book Designer: Melanie Mues


“Black Body Amnesia: Poems and Other Speech Acts,” By Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. | Published by Wendy’s Subway, Edition of 500, 236 pages, softcover


Black Body Amnesia: Poems and Other Speech Acts

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “This book begs to be touched, read, and physically experienced—the materiality: the translucent pages, how the typography flows through the book—it is gorgeous poetry.”

Design Firm/Agency: Omnivore Inc., Book Designers: Julie Cho, Alice Chung, and Karen Hsu


“Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound,” Edited by Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi. | Published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 96 pages, hardcover


Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “Exceptional show, unforgettable work, lovely catalogue—the design supports these very graphic pieces with empathy and engaged framing throughout. An already beloved addition to my own bookshelf.”

Book Designer: Amanda Washburn


“Chakaia Booker: The Observance,” by Alex Gartenfeld and Stephanie Seidel. | Published by ICA Miami and Hirmer Publishers, 192 pages, hardcover


Chakaia Booker: The Observance

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “Stunning work, framed smartly with an economical, elegant design that brings another voice/reading to the work. Some very thoughtful and fresh choices on typeface, photo positioning, sequencing, and scale engage this artists’ work in dialogue with the book form.”

Design Firm/Agency: Studio Lin, Creative Director: Alex Lin, Book Designers: Alex Lin, Tobias Holzmann, and Benjamin Schwartz


“Wangechi Mutu,” Authored with Nora Lawrence and Aisha Tandiwe Bell. | Published by X Artists’ Books, 72 pages, hardcover


Wangechi Mutu

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “A field guide. A perfect platform to experience Mutu’s work. It is a unique book.”

Design Firm/Agency: Omnivore, Inc., Book Designers: Julie Cho, Alice Chung, and Karen Hsu


“Olu & Greta,” Authored and Illustrated By Diana Ejaita. | Published by Rise × Penguin Workshop, 32 pages, hardcover


Olu & Greta

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “I love the saying ‘books make friends.’ This is a book about friendship, and it’s made for the children who read it to imagine a more living, caring, friend-filled world. A total work and great addition to any child’s bookshelf.”

Creative Director: Daniel Moreton, Book Designer: Maria Elias, Illustrator: Diana Ejaita


“Matthew Angelo Harrison,” Edited by Natalie Bell and Elena Filipovic. | Published by MIT Press, 200 pages, hardcover


Matthew Angelo Harrison

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “The LED typeface used was such a powerful, compelling interpretive gesture and reference. For me it was a simple, thoughtful addition that made the whole catalogue come to life in a new way.”

Design Firm/Agency: Practise, Creative Director: James Goggin, Book Designers: James Goggin, Shan James


“Abdias Nascimento: A Panamefrican Artist,” Edited by Adriano Pedrosa and Amanda Carneiro. | Published by MASP (The Museu de Arte de São Paulo), 312 pages, hardcover


Abdias Nascimento: a panamefrican artist

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “This book is so beautiful. From beginning to end the entire structure elevates Nascimento’s work. The typography is so well done, again used to highlight the artist’s work. It is a gorgeous book and work of design.”

Design Firm/Agency: Bloco Gráfico, Book Designers: Gabriela Castro, Gustavo Marchetti, and Paulo Chagas


“Shikeith: Notes Towards Becoming a Spill,” Essay by Ashon T. Crawley. | Published by Aperture, 112 pages, hardback


Shikeith: Notes Towards Becoming a Spill

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “The exaggerated vertical trim highlights the human body as the subject matter. There’s an intentionality to material choice and movement of typography throughout the publication.”

Design Firm/Agency: Rush Jackson Studio, Creative Director: Lesley A. Martin, Book Designer: Rush Jackson


“Stranger Fruit,” By Jon Henry. | Published by Monolith Editions, Edition of 600, 96 pages, hardcover


Stranger Fruit

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “The regal purple cloth cover and the gilded fore-edges of the book create a fittingly elegiac container for artist Jon Henry’s poignant portraits of Black mothers and their sons that evoke the Pietà.”

“I enjoyed so much of this book. One highlight was the unusual treatment of the type column that became almost a plate or figure itself—a broken form held in place, indented in a way that evoked both a generational shifting and violent rupture.”

Design Firm/Agency: Luminosity Lab, Book Designer: Caleb Cain Marcus, Photography: Jon Henry


“Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest,” By Silas Munro. | Published by Letterform Archive Books, 280 pages, hardcover


Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest

50 COVERS WINNER | Judges: “The simplicity of the cover’s iconic gesture of resistance belies an entangled and complex history of protest graphics inside.”

Design Firm/Agency: Polymode, Creative Directors: Brian Johnson and Silas Munro, Book Designers: Brian Johnson, Michelle Lamb, and Silas Munro


“The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection,” Edited by Anne H. Berry, Kareem Collie, Penina Acayo Laker, Lesley-Ann Noel, Jennifer Rittner, and Kelly Walters. | Published by Allworth, 600 pages, paperback


The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection

50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “This is a typographically rich book. The typographic system is gorgeously set up to let the text and all the voices emerge.”

Creative Director: Kelly Walters, Book Designer and Illustrator: Renald Louissaint


“The Language of Beauty in African Art,” Edited by Constantine Petridis. | Published by Yale University Press/Art Institute of Chicago, 356 pages, hardcover


The Language of Beauty in African Art


50 BOOKS WINNER | Judges: “Great cover, and a skillful and original design throughout. There was almost something polyrhythmic about the mix of alignments. And the catalogue managed to take a very academic flavor of typography and bring a freshness to it, contrasting language and beauty (from the endlessly compelling images) in a very direct, energizing way.”

Design Firm/Agency: Studio Blue, Creative Director: Cheryl Towler Weese, Book Designers: Brad Sturm, Meredith Barone, Jacket/Cover Designers: Cheryl Towler Weese, Brad Sturm, and Meredith Barone


“What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life: The Fade Resistance Collection,” Edited by Zun Lee and Sophie Hackett. | Published by DelMonico Books/Art Gallery of Ontario, 192 pages, hardcover


What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life: The Fade Resistance Collection

50 COVERS WINNER | Judges: “The casual cluster of pictures and the embedding of the title into the visual space of the image is spot on: a cache of found Polaroids and prints from another era before digital photography that gives us a glimpse into Black life during that time.”

Design Firm/Agency: Polymode, Creative Directors: Brian Johnson and Silas Munro, Book Designers: Randa Hadi, Brian Johnson, and Silas Munro


SEE FULL LIST of 50 Books | 50 Covers winners

FIND MORE about AIGA, the professional association for design


Winners of the 50 Books | 50 Covers competition include the historic and groundbreaking anthology “The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection.” AIGA also recognized “Olu & Greta,” a lovely children’s book written and illustrated by Diana Ejaita; books focused on photography: “What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life: The Fade Resistance Collection” and “An Alternative History of Photography”; and monographs of rising artists: “Shikeith: Notes Towards Becoming a Spill” and “Matthew Angelo Harrison.” Several exhibition catalogs were featured: “Wangechi Mutu,” “Chakaia Booker: The Observance,” “Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound,” and “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces,” which ranked on Culture Type’s list of Best Black Art Books of 2022. Also consider, “Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest,” “The Language of Beauty in African Art” and “Abdias Nascimento: A Panamefrican Artist.” In addition, Pacific, the creative studio and publishing house co-founded by Elizabeth Karp-Evans and Adam Turnbull, designed “Can I Ask You a Question: The Art and Alchemy of Casting” by Jennifer Venditti, an innovative volume in terms of subject and design approach and one of the 50 Books winners. More recent Pacific projects include the exhibition catalogs “William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision” and “The Culture: Hip Hop & Contemporary Art in the 21st Century.”

You can also explore a selection of the 50 Books | 50 Covers winners on Bookshop.


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