Interview with John Cheim of Cheim & Read

John Cheim is primarily known as one half of influential New York gallery Cheim & Read. However, Cheim is also an outstanding book designer and has produced a number of important artist publications over the last 30 years including monographs on Louise Bourgeois, Alice Nell, Jack Pierson and Bruce Weber, to a name a few. From 15 October until 17 November his work appears at the ICA in a presentation that sheds light on his career as a book designer. Aesthetica speaks to Cheim about his design projects and his new exhibition.

A: You have produced and designed a number of important artist publications over the last 30 years. What prompted you to want to display them publicly now?
JC: It was not actually my idea to display these books but rather that of Gregor Muir, the curator at the ICA. I was flattered and honored by his request.

A: How would you describe your style of book design to anyone who hadn’t seen your work before?
JC: I would describe my approach as simple, classical, perhaps perhaps old-fashioned. I look to the magazines and books of the 1940s and 1950s such as Fortune and Harper’s Bazaar. I have also always admired the books of Ed Ruscha.

A: What is it about the book that makes it your key focus for design?
JC: The key focus of my design is to support the art or artist in question, not overwhelm the subject.

A: Which of your works would you pinpoint as the real highlights of your display?
JC: Certainly working with Andy Warhol to produce the very first book of his photographs was thrilling and much to my delight he loved it. I was also most fortunate to be able to work with the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat to edit and design the first ever publication of his beautiful drawings.

A: How, if at all, has your approach to book design changed throughout your career?
JC: My approach to work or catalogue design has not changed much over the years. In the face of the internet I still love the material quality of a three-dimensional publication and the feel of it.

A: Does your work as one half of the influential New York gallery, Cheim & Read, influence your work as a book designer?
JC: Most of the publications I have been involved with are for our gallery, Cheim & Read, but over the years I have produced works for outside projects – for Bruce Weber, The de Kooning Foundation and for Joan Mitchell and Alice Neel publications for Abrams.

Design by John Cheim, until 17 November, ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH.

Bruce Weber, New York, Alfred A. Knopf. Book Design by John Cheim, Copyright © 1988 by Bruce Weber.