Irma Boom

Irma Boom

Passion for Books

“The idea of an ‘artist’s book’ is ridiculous. Then don’t call it a book. Then it’s a piece of art.” In this extensive interview from her studio, Irma Boom shows us a selection of her unique books and shares the story of why she became a book designer.

“I’m a designer – not an artist.” Boom initially wanted to be a painter, but after three years at art school she came to the conclusion that she simply wasn’t good enough. When a teacher introduced her to different types of book designs, everything seemed to come together: “I realized that I need a question.” What triggers her is having a concept and an idea – and the limitations that come with this: “The content almost decides what kind of book it should be.”

“I cannot handle if somebody tells me what to do.” Boom prefers not to read briefs, as she feels that it delimits what the design should look like: “I always try to escape what they’ve told me.” Among her first designs were two Dutch postage stamp yearbooks for the Dutch Postal and Telecommunications Service in 1987 and 1988. The books received negative criticism when they were first published – “people in the book business are very conservative” – but ultimately ended up winning several awards because the designs challenged popular notions of what a stamp compilation book should look like.

In a time where most things can be designed on a computer, Boom makes books from models, which she considers to be a huge advantage: “A book is basically turning the pages, so you have to make a model. And that’s how I make a book.” Staring at a screen does not help you to come up with the idea of making e.g. a book with holes. Moreover, though she prefers to refer to what has already been done, she always “revamps it to this time.”

Irma Boom (b. 1960) is a Dutch graphic designer, who specializes in book making and is widely acclaimed for their iconoclastic beauty. Boom introduced the idea of a ‘fat book’ (overtly thick book) and has made more than 300 books, 100 of which are in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. The 2,136 page commemorative ‘SHV Think Book’ (1996) – which was anti-chronological and also devoid of page numbers and index – became her international breakthrough. Boom’s design for the book ‘Weaving as Metaphor’ by American artist Sheila Hicks (2006) received the ‘The Most Beautiful Book in the World’ award at the Leipzig Book Fair. Boom’s many clients include the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Chanel, Ferrari and Camper. Her work has received numerous awards, and she is the youngest person to have been honoured with a Gutenberg Prize in 2001. Since 1992 she has been a teacher at Yale University in the U.S. For more about her see: http://www.irmaboom.nl/

Irma Boom was interviewed by Christian Lund at her home and studio – Irma Boom Office – in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 2014.

Camera: Maurits Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Edited by: Sonja Strange
Produced by: Christian Lund
Cover photo: Irma Boom holding one of the annual Dutch postage stamp yearbooks, which she designed for the Dutch Postal and Telecommunications Service in 1987 and 1988.
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • 8 Artists

    On Painting

    ”A painting must always move beyond its subject,” says British painter Michael Simpson, who sees the practice of painting as ”giving form to an idea.” Hear how he, David Hockney and 6 other painters work with the classical art form.

  • Mette Winckelmann

    Woman to Woman

    ”You must evaluate whether the system you’re part of could be effectuated differently.” Meet artist Mette Winckelmann, who believes that abstract painting communicates deeper than language, and explore her visual take on gender politics.

  • Chigozie Obioma

    Everything We Do is Preordained

    Award-winning Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma calls his debut novel ‘The Fishermen’ “an Igbo version of a tragedy.” Meet the author and hear about his modern day metaphor of “the paradox that is Nigeria.”

  • Ed Ruscha

    Words Have No Size

    The road to being an artist was “like blind leading the blind” says Ed Ruscha, who grew to be one of the most recognised American artists of the 20th century. Hear the story of West Coast Jazz, his break with abstract art and L.A. in the 1960s.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Adam Caruso

    Novelty is nonsense

    "The European city is one of the great human inventions!” Adam Caruso advocates building with a deep sense of history and tradition. Meet the architect behind the award-winning Tate Britain conversion and numerous Gagosian galleries.

  • Thomas Hirschhorn

    A World of Collage

    Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn juxtaposes pixelated images from the media. His works are not about technology, says the artist: “I try to give form to what I can’t accept: that someone else can decide for me what I should do, see or think.”

  • Jonathan Safran Foer

    On Donald Trump

    Jonathan Safran Foer, star of American literature, offers interesting views on America’s new president and the consequences Trump will have on American culture. "The place for literature may be even more important than before," he says.

  • Dorte Mandrup

    Where Place Meets Sculpture

    Rising from the landscape in a place rich with materiality and history sits architect Dorte Mandrup’s new Wadden Sea Centre. Meet the renowned architect and see a building were “everything comes together.”

  • 5 Artists

    on Making Sculptures

    “All sculpture that I’m interested in knows that death is the inevitable conclusion.” Award-winning artist Antony Gormley sees art as the expression and generation of hope. Hear how he and five other artists work with sculpture.

  • Karl Ove Knausgård

    Literature Should be Ruthless

    Karl Ove Knausgård has enchanted the literary world with ‘My Struggle’, a novel of more than 3000 pages about his own life. Watch the star author discuss literature, writing and how his autobiographical style is closely connected to fiction.