It's that time of year again, when the sound of slapping backs echoes around the valleys and Cantons of Switzerland. But 23 years after the Swiss Federal Office of Culture took over the program, the annual Most Beautiful Swiss Books Award finds itself as far more than mere design industry self-celebration.
Founded in 1943, largely at the behest of the legendary designer and typographer Jan Tschichold, the competition was initially run by the Swiss Association of Booksellers and Publishers. Today, it is an exhibition and publication in its own right, a celebration of both the spirit of independent publishing and the undeniable craft and technological skill of the Swiss printing industry. Throw in a heavy dose of understated contemporary design, and you have a recipe for bibliophile heaven.
This year's fine selection was whittled down by a jury that included designer Cornel Windlin and publisher Lars Müller, and has now surfaced as an exhibition and catalogue. The latter is a tour-de-force of book fetishism, featuring crisply defined photographs by the Dutch duo Maurice Scheltens and Lisbeth Abbenes, and design by Aude Lehmann. Ranging from esoteric art monographs to corporate communications, there's a wide range of work on display, nixing the cliché of dour Swiss precision, with Amsterdam-based designer Julia Born picking up the Jan Tschichold Award. Announced last December, the books are now on show at Zurich's Helmhaus, before undertaking a swift tour through Lavin Engadin, St. Gallen and Biel-Bienne for the rest of the year.