‘The Art Museum in Modern Times’

Book Design

Design for a book that looks at how the experience of art is shaped by the buildings that house it.

Pentagram has designed The Art Museum in Modern Times, a new book by Charles Saumarez Smith, which explores how architecture, vision, and funding have transformed art museums around the world over the past eighty years. 

Charles Saumarez Smith is a renowned art historian who was at the helm of three major British art institutions, as director of the National Portrait Gallery, director of the National Gallery, and secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy. 

Pentagram and Saumarez Smith have been longtime collaborators since Saumarez Smith’s time at the Royal Academy. Pentagram was commissioned to design the RA’s rebrand, as well as promotional work for its 250th anniversary building alterations and birthday celebrations. The Art Museum in Modern Times is Saumarez Smith’s second book designed by Pentagram, following on from his previous publication East London.

Published by Thames & Hudson (which was rebranded by Pentagram in 2020), the book looks at the past, present and future of the art museum, starting with MoMA in New York, which was one of the first museums to focus on the art of the time rather than of the past. The book also features groundbreaking institutions, including Tate Modern in London, the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the West Bund Museum in Shanghai, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The fascinating narrative explores the shifting reasons for visiting museums, the changes in the way exhibits are organized and displayed, and the new architectural landmark art museums, with buildings that have become destinations in their own right.

The 272-page hardback book contains over 100 colour and black and white images illustrating the narrative across airy layouts, which give the photographs plenty of space to breathe. The typography reflects the book’s forward-looking theme, with Paul Renner’s classic geometric Futura typeface used for headlines, chapter openers and text. The striking cover features bold red type on a white background, contrasting with the heavily desaturated imagery.

Charles Saumarez Smith explores the radical shift from a belief that museums should instruct and educate to the idea that museums should be more about contemplation, spectacle and individual experience, and Pentagram’s elegant design of The Art Museum in Modern Times provides the perfect showcase for his engaging writing. 

Thames & Hudson
Book Design
Harry Pearce
Project team
Johannes Grimmond
Tiffany Fenner
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