Design | Review: Munari’s Books

Bruno Munari’s Zoo. Mantua: Graziano Peruffo, 1963.

Pablo Picasso described Bruno Munari as “the Leonardo of our time.” Munari, who lived 1907-1998, was a graphic artist whose career included contributions to painting, sculpture, design, photography—but it was books that were among the most outstanding works in his oeuvre.

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Munari was endowed with a gift, an ability to think visually and create an experience that was stimulated the senses at the mind with harmonies and rhythms distinct to the illustrated book. He was dedicated to investigating all aspects of the medium, exploring the possibilities, eager to unlock and discover what magic exists between the covers and on the printed page.

La favola delle favole. Mantua: Maurizio Corraini Editore, 1994.

Working across the medium, Munari explored a wide array of genres, to great success. Whether creating artist books, children’s books, photography books, theoretical and educational books, Munari was a singular figure of the form. Paging through this collection, we can watch his progression as the medium becomes more intricate, and infinitely more complex as technology improves and design innovations are carried off with style and finesse.

Abecedario de Munari. Rome: Emanuele Prandi, 1942.

Munari created a series of books called “Libri Illeggibili”, which were incredible explorations of the medium. He explained, “Books are usually made with only a few types of paper and two or three bindings. Paper is used for the words and illustrations, and has not really anything of its ‘own’ to communicate. If we want to try visual communications with the materials used to make books, we ought to test different types of paper, different formats, punches, sequences of shapes (or papers), and use different types of paper bindings or materials with their different natural colors and textures.”

Bruno Munari’s ABC_02. Mantua: Graziano Peruffo, 1960.

It is in these “Libri Illeggibili” that Munari shows us the full breadth of his innovative techniques, earning Picasso’s accolades. It is here that the book transforms into an object independent of content other than the paper itself. Liberated of the duty to convey image or text, the paper comes alive with possibilities previously unconsidered. The book is now pure sensation, combining the senses of sight and touch, unfolding in ways that are pure acts of imagination. Munari’s Books reminds of another quote by Picasso, “Everything you can imagine is real.”


Images from Munari’s Books by Giorgio Maffei, published by Princeton Architectural Press (2015).