Michael Ilk is a German architect, art historian and collector of avant garde book covers, magazines and journals—my favorite genre for discovery. He does not have a website but has organized exhibitions on Eastern European avant-gardes as well as monographs and catalogue raisonnés on the likes of Marcel Janco, Victor Brauner and Erich Buchholz. This year he completed his massive Global Avantgarde, a 400-plus-page catalog (or “mirror of my collection”) of mostly rare pieces. An incredible undertaking, to say the least, it includes numerous artists unfamiliar to me and hundreds of vintage periodical covers that I’ve never seen displayed in exhibitions or reproduced in any other form.
This book (“a one-man show,” as he calls it) has been printed in a private edition of 200 numbered copies. They are on sale while available for €150 plus shipping, via email here. I could not resist asking Herr Ilk about this uniquely cohesive, all-inclusive and most enviable collection.
What inspired you to do this massive tome, what I’d call an avant garde of avant gardes?
Enthusiasm and passion since my childhood for this topic—visual avant garde Modernist printed material.
How did you go about researching the material and finding reproduction-quality images?
Long and intensive studies. Hundreds of reference books and avant garde movements from each country and an aesthetical “collector’s eye” to filter millions of examples. The best examples of this topic via internet access to different national libraries to visualize millions of covers of what was produced in this period. Then the “hunt” to find where in the world this very rare material was and to get it in the best condition.
Each section is organized according to its geography. In covering so many cities and nations around the globe—many more than I ever realized had progressive graphic design movements—did you learn about who influenced who, and how the diaspora of this graphic language expanded across boarders?
Yes! South Americans in Paris, Baltic artists, too; Icelandic artists in the [Berlin] Der Sturm Gallery in 1924, etc., etc. Publicity for a magazine from Madagascar in a Romanian avant garde magazine … these magazines were the platform of the communication in this time, without internet or mobiles.
How long did it take you to do this unbelievably dense amount of work?
Approximately 40 years of research; one year for creation of the book, despite my long-COVID symptoms.
How many people worked with you on it?
Myself. My friend helped me for the technical realization of my layout.
What’s next for you?
To stay healthy and enjoy the fascination of the [next] brilliant unknown cover.