Art History | with Lund Humphries
A recent arrival in EC1 is celebrating a 75-year publishing history that also tells its own fascinating story of modern art. Andre Paine discusses blockbuster exhibitions, iPad editions and difficult artists with Lund Humphries’ managing director Lucy Myers…
From Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth to Anthony Caro and the Saatchi collection, Lund Humphries is a publisher at the forefront of modern British art, as well as international architecture, design and the art market. The company is celebrating 75 years since its first book – by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright – and there are plans to stage a major debate about British art in the autumn. Lund Humphries is also driving interest in its rigorous yet accessible books with an online promotion, as well as chronicling landmark events on its blog.
Digital innovation has not been top of the agenda, perhaps because a Kindle simply cannot compete with a beautifully illustrated volume, such as the popular new title on Eric Ravilious. Tablet devices could provide an opportunity, though. “We are looking at the iPad options, and we’re also looking at trying to make the physical books more tactile and desirable,” says managing director Lucy Myers. Having worked her way up from an editor role in 1991, Myers has experienced almost a third of the firm’s own art history. At the St John Street office, she proudly presents early volumes, including a 1944 study of Henry Moore.
“It was still seen as quite radical to produce a highly illustrated, high-quality book on a contemporary artist at that time,” explains Myers. Lund Humphries is still publishing challenging work: Art as an Investment? prompted a heated debate at the London Art Fair, while a new book considers the merits of paintings sanctioned under dictatorships during World War II. The war interrupted publishing plans from the beginning as paper was rationed and managing director Eric Humphries was diverted into a secret nuclear weapons programme. In 1946, chairman Peter Gregory helped found the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) while the company went on to issue signifi cant studies on Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth and Paul Klee.
Lund Humphries was originally a printer and, from 1909, it was also publisher of The Penrose Annual, which featured Stanley Morison’s typeface designs. Edward McKnight Kauff er, creator of dozens of London Underground posters from 1915, was Lund Humphries’ fi rst design director and shared a studio and dark room with avantgarde photographer Man Ray in Bedford Square. In 1934, Man Ray’s first – and only – English show in his lifetime was staged in the building’s exhibition space.
I find that legacy of a connection with the art world very inspiring,” says Myers. Of course, the pre-war company was completely diff erent to today’s lean, professional EC1 operation, owned by academic publisher Ashgate. “It’s very good for us here; we’ve seen Clerkenwell Design Week grow and it’s nice to feel that’s on your doorstep,” says Myers of the office they relocated to in 2011 from Lincoln’s Inn. “There seem to be galleries popping up all over the place.” Lund Humphries partners with museums and galleries in the UK and abroad on co-publications, though it is harder to publish catalogues for major exhibitions, as it did for the original Saatchi collection in 1984 and the Barbican’s 1989 show on the Romantic tradition.
“Most of the big galleries now have their own publishing departments and are capitalizing on the blockbuster shows,” says Myers. But the company is alert to opportunities: it will publish a Barbara Hepworth book marking 40 years since her death in 2015, which Myers says will coincide with a Tate exhibition.
For living artists, the editorial process can require painstaking collaboration. “Many are very demanding and can appear quite irrational to deal with,” admits Myers. However, she adds that Sir Peter Blake was “absolutely delightful”, while Sir Anthony Caro “wasn’t going to compromise, but was very charming” during the preparation of five books published in 2009 and 2010.
For any would-be authors up for the challenge of an august artist, the publisher will be launching a competition in 2014 to discover new writing talent. As well as celebrating its remarkable history, Lund Humphries is clearly focused on the chronicling of British art for many more decades to come.