Cover story: Martin Kippenberger: Everything Is Everywhere

In this study of the work of artist Martin Kippenberger, form follows function

Books on artists aren’t always works of art themselves—but for Chris Reitz, author of Martin Kippenberger: Everything Is Everywhere, intentional book design was always front of mind for this project. 

Reitz’s Martin Kippenberger is the first scholarly monograph in English on West German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997), one of the most prominent German artists of the 1980s. From the book’s cover design—both front and, notably, back—and binding materials to interior typefaces, every decision in the creation of the book-as-object was made with a message in mind. Reitz and book designers Rosa Nussbaum of Studio Christopher Victor and Michela Zoppi endeavored to create a clear and obvious sense of place, of the artist, and of cultural context from start to finish.

Read on for our conversation with Reitz and designers Nussbaum and Zoppi to learn more about the design process for Martin Kippenberger: Everything Is Everywhere, and sign up for our newsletter to hear more updates from the Press.

MIT Press: What was the initial cover concept? Did that concept change by the time you arrived at the final version, or did you make any major revisions?

Front and back covers, Martin Kippenberger: Everything Is Everywhere by Chris Reitz, 2023.
Photo: Studio Christopher Victor.

Chris Reitz, Rosa Nussbaum, and Michela Zoppi: The inspiration was always Kippenberger’s own bookmaking practice. His Hotel-Hotel from 1992 and Sind die Discos… from 1984 were particular touchstones. In some respects, if we consider his painterly practice to be amateurish or at least hasty, his bookmaking was where he really invested in the object. Sometimes he would organize an exhibition—even make paintings for an exhibition!—just so he could have a show with a catalog and a poster. He designed books that insisted on being objects, monuments even. So from the beginning we felt it was important not to just smack a famous painting on the front and defer to his 2-D practice.

We felt confident the cover should be type-led but it took us a long time to settle on the final version. Kippenberger’s own covers demonstrated an assertive approach to typography that made minimal distinction between titles and subtitles, the effect being to foreground the names of the publishers, galleries, even the cities in which these organizations were located. 

With materials and binding it was about finding subtle ways to foreground the “thingliness” of the book. We initially considered an untreated corrugated cardboard but the relationship to packaging felt too overt and the sense of disposability didn’t sit right. In the end we settled on a palette of more refined materials. The flush-cut hardcover retains the rawness we were reaching for early on but combining it with cloth and an exposed dyed graphite cover board keeps it firmly situated in the book world.

MIT Press: The back cover features an image of Kippenberger. What inspired the decision to highlight the book’s subject on the back cover, rather than front?

CR, RN, and MZ: So much of the literature on Kippenberger focuses on his life and personality. In some respects this book does too—it is an artist monograph, after all. But we wanted the design to decenter his image. This starts at the very beginning. The cover has no image, and his name, the title, and the author’s name are of equal weight. Inside, the first illustration features a photo of a sign painter Kippenberger hired to paint his second series of paintings. Another deferral. Yet of course Kippenberger—both the biographical Kippenberger and the one implied by his art—is behind the entire project. So there he is, on the back, in all of his enthusiastic, touristic glory, hugging Pluto in Disneyland.

Detail of front cover, Martin Kippenberger: Everything Is Everywhere by Chris Reitz, 2023.
Photo: Studio Christopher Victor.

MIT Press: What was your vision for the interior, and how the form of the physical object should speak to its content?

CR, RN, and MZ: The text takes up a move from industrial to office labor and the format reflects this. A4 is an unusual size for an art book because outside the US it is primarily associated with administrative paperwork. International adoption of DIN A paper sizes is part of a wider shift towards systems of industrial standardization across the 20th century that greased the wheels of international commerce—including the art market. Fittingly, the standard was invented in Germany. All of this is relevant to the content of the book for it creates a sense of place, not just nationally but in terms of the place(s) of work.

The opening sequence of pages is idiosyncratic. The book begins with a picture, but not of Kippenberger. The introduction, which appears like a dialogue, follows. Only after the introduction does the reader find the contents page—almost like the credits of a movie. At the time we described this in cinematic terms as a cold open. Indeed, the introduction is designed to feel a little like the beginning of a film because it starts, in terms of the artist’s life, with his first series, which he produced while claiming to be in search of an acting career.

We tried to maintain an equivalence between text and image throughout, but also a clear separation. The large, full-color reproductions surrounded by white space lend the book the quality of an exhibition catalog. But readers soon discover a tight adjacency between text and image which speaks more to the logics of academic publishing. In practice that means that images interject the flow of the text. We get an advertisement for a car that is full-bleed, and suddenly the book becomes a magazine for a moment. The addition of gate folds and full-bleed centerfolds is almost pornographic—apt for this particular artist.

MIT Press: What is the significance of the typeface you chose?

CR, RN, and MZ: The book uses two typefaces: Akzindenz Grotesk and Mercure.

Akzidenz Grotesk is a late 19th century typeface that enjoyed a second lease of life when it was refined and extended in the 1950s by Günter Gerhard Lange. An unadorned sans-serif, the German type foundry Berthold originally pitched the typeface as a general purpose workhorse for everyday commercial printing. An early specimen incorporated Akzidenz Grotesk into a range of fictitious applications including engagement cards and an ad for a piano manufacturer. We saw a through line to Kippenberger’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek relationship to commercialization, particularly in his Büro project, an office space that offered a range of “services” (“mediation, consultation, and pictures”). Beyond this context we had a more pragmatic ambition—to find a sans-serif family offering a medium weight between regular and bold. On the page this gives it a distinctive presence and heft that we felt paired well with the artworks. It’s an unconventional choice for setting book length text and remains a contentious aspect of the design.

Mercure, designed by Charles Mazé for Abyme, is a serif type that is the result of an inquiry into Latin epigraphy and the typographic forms associated with that discipline. Pairing a serif with a sans-serif was part of our strategy to make a clear distinction between text and image. Special thanks go to Adrien Vasquez who was kind enough to supply us with a bespoke, marginally heavier version that sits more comfortably alongside Akzidenz.

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