Throughout my career as a designer and latterly as a publisher, like many others, I've collected design ephemera from the 50's to present day. After all, it's what kickstarted all this mess in the first place. My partner and I beg, stole and borrowed (without giving back) art catalogues, posters, books, maps, toys, menus – you name it – if it wasn't nailed down, it was pocketed.
We've always had an interest in the history of design, a love of the aesthetic beauty of the pieces we collected but I also think the rarity of these finds was also an attraction. After all, it is unlikely that one would come across another copy of Mode-en Module in a church fete, brick-a-brac stall again – better to pick it up while you could.
So it's still strange to be involved, as a book seller, with the current renaissance in reissuing forgotten, or once unobtainable, design pieces. To this point, last week we took stock of This is Tomorrow, a spiralbound catalogue for the show of the same name held at London's Whitechapel Gallery. Originally designed by Edward Wright and published by Lund Humphries and out of print since 1957, it has since become a much sought-after rarity and a classic of graphic design and postwar visual culture.
To our delight, The Whitechapel Gallery have reissued a facsimile edition, which was published for the gallery's 2010–2011 reconstruction of the 1956 show.
This is Tomorrow was a seminal exhibition of art, architecture, music and graphic design that took place at London's Whitechapel Gallery in August 1956. At its core was a room given over to the Independent Group, the proto-Pop collective comprised of (at various stages) the theorists Reyner Banham and Lawrence Alloway, photographer Nigel Henderson and the artists Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton, William Turnbull and John McHale. The Independent Group's room premiered works of Op art alongside film posters, collages, murals, films and a jukebox, and was Britain's introduction to the phenomenon later named Pop.
An iconic show in its conception and realisation it has continuously interested artists, theorists and curators ever since due to the challenge it posed for the creative practitioners and visitors alike. The former, as each group was polymorphic formed by an architect, a designer, an artist and a theorist, were requested to amalgamate their individual approaches and produce a work by deploying a new methodology. The latter, with no interpretation panels and other information available, had to make their own judgements as to how to navigate inside the gallery and interpret the works they viewed.
The catalogue, available here, is a beautiful piece and one that will fit snuggly in any great collection of post war art and design.