That a book is a prestige object is something designer Irma Boom knows better than most – particularly when it is a publication dedicated to a collection owned by a private collector, because in it the collection comes out into the open, gaining as it does so in both importance and worth.
Almost all the items of China’s cultural heritage presented here – ceramics and porcelain from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) – are small and fragile objects. Each has been photographed on its own in colour against a black background, and the wonderful effect is that they appear somehow to be emerging from the past towards us. Their age and relative colourlessness are balanced by the brightly coloured pages facing them. This creates a light-hearted, vivid and contemporary touch that underpins the book’s ambition of providing the collection with a new context. The colours on the text pages are borrowed from Chinese paintings and textiles of the period and turn out to have originally been a lot brighter than hitherto thought.
Photographs of these objects, along with images of modern China, appear throughout the book. Thus the delicate little containers that people used in their daily lives in centuries long past are cherished as heritage items, but without being placed on a pedestal. Even so, taken together, in this impressive book the collection gains weight both literally and figuratively.
An unusual feature is the cream-coloured cover from which rises a 3D halftone image of a vase printed in raised white puff ink. Here too simplicity and complexity conflict: one of the paradoxes that characterize Boom’s work.
One question remains: whether this book really needed an extra cover in the form of a cardboard wrapper covered in Chinese silk.