Klaus Zylla: Whimsical and Energetic Artists’ Books

  • Posted on Jun 01, 2010 by

Since its conscious decision in 1970 to begin actively collecting artists’ books, the Brooklyn Museum Library has amassed a varied and substantial collection comprised of over 2,500 titles, and further supported by numerous artists’ files, and related exhibition catalogues and relevant publications.  Now, with the recently acquired Smoller Gift, generously donated to the Brooklyn Museum from Arnold Smoller, the collection has been further enriched and expanded by the inclusion of over 40 artists’ books and livres d’artiste.

Included in this wonderful donation are five artists’ books by Klaus Zylla, a little known German screen printer, painter, graphic designer, and illustrator.  Born in Cottbus, Germany in 1953, Zylla worked as a screen printer in advertising from 1977-1980, and studied at the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee (Berlin-Weisseensee Art Academy) from 1977-82.  After completing his studies, he worked as a screen printer at the College of Fine Arts in Dresden, before opening and maintaining his own workshop in Berlin.  Since 1990, Zylla has acted as a freelance artist, with over a hundred independent and collaborative shows throughout Europe and the United States, including a solo exhibition in 2005 at the Tinhorn Gallery in San Francisco.

Beautifully published by Thomas Günther, a book designer and publisher of prints and artists’ books, these new additions to the Brooklyn Museum Library provide excellent examples of not only high quality book binding and production, but also allow for a rare glimpse into the unique work of this artist.  Working in the tradition of CoBrA (a European avant-garde movement, 1949-1952) and the “Art Brut”, Zylla’s exaggeratedly fashioned characters are all at once stark and bare, violent and chaotic, whimsical and energetic.  Text is often incorporated into the image, overlapping and overlapped by his humanoid figures that border on the animalistic in both form and action.  Each book is inspired by a text by the German writers such as Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Jünger, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, Thomas Bernhard, and Karleinz Deschner.  The books offer pictorial interpretations and explorations of the themes and subjects of their writings.

Though all of the items included in this set of artists’ books by Zylla are uniquely arranged and executed, some notable items include: Die Irren; Die Haftlinge (The Insane; The Inmates), an atlas format book based on Thomas Bernhard’s 1988 text by the same name, which contains six original chalk and gouache drawings on deeply saturated backgrounds; and Rolltreppen im August (Escalators in August), based on Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s poem published posthumously in 1986, which contains colour photographic images of escalators drawn over in black to form a variety of whimsical characters.


Bernhard, Thomas. Die Irren ; Die Häftlinge. Ill. Klaus Zylla. (Berlin : Galerie auf Zeit, 1994)

Brinkmann, Rolf Dieter. Rolltreppen im August. Ill. Klaus Zylla. (Berlin : Edition Dschamp, 2000)

Available for view at the Brooklyn Museum Library are the following five artists’ books by Klaus Zylla:

Vom Mitmench (From Fellow Man, Bertolt Brecht, 1927)

Weisse Nachte (White Night, Ernst Jünger, 1970)

Rolltreppen im August (Escalators in August, 1986)

Die Irren; Die Haftlinge (The Insane; The Inmates, Thomas Bernhard, 1988)

Die Nacht Steht um Mein Haus (The Night is at My House, Karleinz Deschner, 1956)

These artists’ books are also accompanied by a catalogue of an exhibition held at the Museum Würth in Künzelsau, signed and dated by both Klaus Zylla (who penned an original drawing above his signature) and Thomas Günther.

Copies of Zylla’s work can also be found at the Museum of Modern Art Library.

Brenna Lee, Intern, Brooklyn Museum Libraries


terrific post! enjoyed reading about Zylla. I always like to learn about artists books in dialogue with literature

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