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Of Ginza and Book Design…

[From Ashley Rawlings...]

What to make of Ginza?

In my post on Monday, I mentioned that guidebooks to Tokyo still tend to talk of Ginza as the center of Tokyo's contemporary art world, though in fact galleries have been opening up elsewhere in the city for some time now. That said, two of the galleries that we chose for Art Space Tokyo, Gallery Koyanagi and Tokyo Gallery + BTAP, are in Ginza, and for many reasons the area continues to be a must-see for any art and architecture lover.

Starting with the top half of Ginza, Gallery Koyanagi is surrounded by a number of worthwhile galleries that feature emerging artists, such as Ai Gallery, Gallery Yamaguchi, Punctum and Gallery Kobo. The latter is particularly interesting — it is housed in an unusual old brick building that actually feels like two buildings, conjoined in the middle by an M.C. Escher-like set of interconnecting staircases.The latter is particularly interesting — it is housed in an unusual old brick building that actually feels like two buildings, conjoined in the middle by an M.C. Escher-like set of interconnecting staircases.

It's worth noting, though, that unlike Gallery Koyanagi, these spaces are so-called "rental galleries" that charge artists an average of $450 per day to exhibit there, usually in one- to two-week periods. On top of charging to use the space, most rental galleries still take a 50% commission on sales — a practice that is largely rejected outright by "real" commercial gallery owners. The controversy surrounding rental galleries is largely a question of the art market, however, so if you put that aside, there still remains a reasonable chance that you will come across some good work.

Ginza is also home to countless fashion houses, many of which are serious sponsors of contemporary art, boasting high-quality gallery spaces within their flagship stores. There are two that particularly stand out: First is Le Forum on the eighth floor of the Maison Hermès building; designed by Renzo Piano and made entirely out of glass blocks, the gallery space is a naturally lit haven to a program of ambitious installations by Japanese and international artists and architects. Meanwhile, the Shiseido Gallery, a cavernous basement space in the cosmetic company's headquarters, is often the place to go to discover emerging Japanese talent, as well as the occasional big name artist.

Many of these flagship stores are stunning pieces of signature contemporary architecture — the twisting profile of Jun Mitsui's De Beers store, the Swiss cheese façade of Toyo Ito's Mikimoto store, or the pockmarked surface of Kumiko Inui's Dior building, to name but a few.

Down in the lower half of Ginza, the area around Tokyo Gallery + BTAP is worth wandering around: here you can find the Ginza Graphic Gallery, one of Tokyo's few spaces dedicated to design exhibitions, and Vanilla Gallery, which is without a doubt where you want to head if you're after something explicit. If all this walking has left you feeling hungry, then don't worry — you're spoiled for choice, especially at lunchtime, when set menus at many fancy restaurants are a steal compared to the exorbitant prices charged for dinner. Hibiki, on the 11th floor of the Ginza Green building, offers a delicious lunchtime buffet of Japanese food for only $10, and if you're after a serious coffee, then stepping into L'ambre, located directly behind Tokyo Gallery + BTAP, takes you into the retreat of some of Tokyo's most discerning coffee connoisseurs.

÷ ÷ ÷

[From Craig Mod...]

There are two books I find utterly indispensable for getting in the right mood to design a book. There are two books I find utterly indispensable for getting in the right mood to design a book.

The first book is a staple of any designer's library and will hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has studied design. Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst should be both the first book you pick up as a print designer and one of the few books you impulsively return to time and time again. Bringhurst, in beautiful prose, paints with broad, textured stokes almost everything you would want to know about type and its role on the printed page. Opening and taking in my well-thumbed copy of Elements reminds me of what an object born of love looks and feels like. This is a book that covers almost all technical aspects of typography. But it also exists, in and of itself, as a prime contemporary-classical specimen of what can be achieved when great attention is given to even the smallest, nuanced details of the page.

Searching for a passage to quote, I open randomly to an earmarked page 47. I've underlined a paragraph on text figures (or "old-style figures" as they're often referred to in OpenType settings). Text figures are, essentially, "lowercase" numerals. That is, numerals that are cut specifically to mingle well with lowercase text. I marked this passage because of the language more than the information, but it's a fine example of how Bringhurst imbues typography with romance:

It is true that text figures are rarely useful in classified ads, but they are useful for setting almost everything else, including good magazine and newspaper copy. They are basic parts of typographic speech, and they are a sign of civilization: a sign that dollars are not really twice as important as ideas, and numbers are not afraid to consort on an equal footing with words.

Did you see what he did there? He made an otherwise utterly boring topic not only interesting but beautiful!He made an otherwise utterly boring topic not only interesting but beautiful! This is why, secretly, all designers keep a photo of Robert Bringhurst in their pencil case.

The second book without which I can't start designing is Richard Hendel's On Book Design. The cover of the book (grid lines overlaid on a spread) belies the interior — this is a book borne of a hard, well-formed, logical grid. Everything on the page has its proper place, and from the very onset to the end — from the titles to the opening quotes to the index — Hendel's beautiful design logic proudly rears its head.

The intent of the book is simple: Hendel asks several book designers to describe their thought processes when designing a book. He has them do this for a specific book in their portfolio. The result is a peek into the minds of a group of creatives that's fascinating, revealing, and, from the perspective of another book designer, somewhat comforting. It's nice to know we're all a little bit crazy.

In his introduction, Hendel states,

It would have been much easier to write this book years ago. I was certain then about how typography worked and how books should be designed. Now, after three decades of experience, I am more uncertain than ever about how to design books. I have no design philosophy; I subscribe to no theories of typography; I am willing to try anything...

This uncertainty he speaks of is certainly real — there might be classic foundations upon which to build your scaffolding, but ultimately the decisions on how you read the text and transplant the nuance of that text to the page are all yours to make. And sometimes, these decisions are entirely arbitrary. Richard Eckersley, on the topic of choosing a typeface confesses,

I tend to binge on a particular typeface until I sicken of it. Perhaps that is inevitable. It takes repeated use to understand a typeface, and by then, one no longer sees it freshly.

Clearly, we are tortured souls, us book designers.

On Book Design is filled with endless insight into the mind of the designer — almost every page in my copy is underlined or in some way marked. If you, as an author, have ever wondered what the designers are doing after they get your text, this is your voyeuristic peek over their shoulders.If you, as an author, have ever wondered what the designers are doing after they get your text, this is your voyeuristic peek over their shoulders.

And so, when starting work on Art Space Tokyo, I cracked both of these books open. I read through almost all of On Book Design again, mainly because it had been so long since I had actually designed a book. (I designed Art Space Tokyo in March 2008 and before that, Goodbye Madame Butterfly in July 2007). Although I had spent the previous eights months working in a variety of creative modes, the mindset for designing a book is something that can take a while to fully inhabit (if you so wish to fully inhabit it). This, I'm sure, is due in no small part to the permanence and weight a printed object multiplied by the thousands carries with it. After all, writers have editors to blame if some careless mistake slips in before the final printing. Designers? We have only ourselves.

÷ ÷ ÷

Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod are co-authors of Art Space Tokyo. A specialist in postwar Japanese art, Ashley lives in Tokyo, where he works as a freelance editor, writer, and translator. Craig is a Tokyo-based print designer and online developer who co-founded Chin Music Press and Hitotoki.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. On Book Design Used Hardcover $24.00

Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod is the author of Art Space Tokyo: An Intimate Guide to the Tokyo Art World

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