Beyond the Dust

Used bookstores in Mexico City

April 9, 2015

I hate dust, but I love books and the surprise of what I find between one and the other. I like old books, and thinking about their owners—that they might have been inspiration for works that exist today. Sometimes I find things inside of them: inscriptions, signatures, dates, bookmarks, or notes in the margins. For example, yesterday I found a portrait drawn in ink, very well executed; the book was quite expensive and they were being sold together as a collection. I couldn’t buy the book, so I left it there, with the drawing. It would have been a crime to separate them.

Used book shopping is usually an unplanned outing; it is intuition that compels you to search for them. Entering an unknown store that I’ve never seen before is irresistible. Sometimes the impulse is what drives me. One day, just like that, I wake up and I know I have to go and search. Then when I arrive, I know I’ll find something. I search tirelessly, many times stopping to realize that I’m in front of an object that has already been in someone else’s hands, which have used it and have left a mark in it. I look a little more and I find a book about Tapio Wirkkala, then one about Richard Neutra, and perhaps, with some luck, some magazines I like: Interiors or Industrial Design. It may seem like there’s nothing, but suddenly a book on wood lathing techniques or a book about wire crafts will appear before my eyes. I like having options, but I can’t take everything. I have to decide.

Donceles 78-2
Colonia Centro, Ciudad de México


Photo by the artist
“Acapulco en el sueño,” Francisco Tario and Lola Álvarez Bravo, 1951

In 1951, Acapulco was photographed in black and white. The idea came from Francisco Tario (1911-1977), an independent writer, and the photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo (1905-1993), who published Acapulco en el sueño, a great document with eighty photographs of diverse aspects of Acapulco with accompanying text by Tario.

Acapulco en el sueño is a book that emanates a genuine, tropical, mysterious sensuality, as can be surmised from the book's jacket cover, designed by Carlos Mérida, which depicts aquatic scenery with fish, mermaids, seashells, and naked bodies. It’s a sought-after book—some people ask up to $10,000 pesos ($680 USD) for one of these copies—and I was lucky to find it after years of searching for $1,200 pesos ($80).

Librería Entretodos
Tlalpan 1929
Coyoacán, Mexico City


Photo by the artist
Anonymous, “Fibracel,” México

This small pamphlet from the “Fibracel” company, which is not dated but has a style typical of the 1950s, is a beautiful example from the height of the development of new materials discovered beginning in WWII. It reads: “Fibracel is made of wood, but not a tree’s useful wood. It is made of stripped wood, scrap wood that has no other utility, which, once uprooted, clears the fields and leaves them open for agricultural production.” This small piece of memorabilia captures the era’s sensibilities and is an example of the quality of graphic design at the time.


Photo by the artist
“The Family of Man,” Edward Steichen. New York: Museum of Modern Art 1955. Prologue by Carl Sandburg

The Family of Man is the beautiful catalog of a 1955 exhibition of the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, organized by Edward Steichen. Inside, we can see photographs that speak of universal themes and everyday emotions that reflect the essence of people around the world. In this exhibition, photographs by artists like Roy De Carava, a personal favorite, were included, as well as those by Wayne Miller and Bill Brandt, among many others. It is a tear-jerking book that will inevitably move the reader.


Photo by the artist
“Para tornear madera” [To Lathe Wood], F. Wilhelm, Buenos Aires, 1971

Cómo hacer (How to make) was a collection of books edited by Kapelusz, with the objective of teaching how to make pottery, balsa wood constructions, wood carving, objects out of wire, things with resins, book binding, printmaking, or copper etchings. When you want to start a new hobby, or discover an artisanal technique or material, these books are a great help.

Librería Inframundo
Donceles 73-1
Centro histórico, Mexico City


Photo by the artist
“Möbel,” Karl Kaspar, Stuttgart: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1969

These catalogs, edited by Verlag Gerd Hatje, are a sure thing. Their photographs are top tier and the selections of furniture presented are always elegantly curated. The design and typography are clear and functional. Gerd Hatje (1915 - 2007) was born in Hamburg and was a well-known typesetter in Stuttgart, where he started his publishing house. He published high-quality books on art, design and architecture. This volume is a jewel that documents furniture like the “tulip” chair by Saarinen. Highly valued by their collectors, copies of these books in good condition can be priced up to $100.

La Casa del Coleccionista
Francisco Sosa 5, Villa Coyoacán
Coyoacán, Mexico City


Photo by the artist
“Artes de México. Anahuacalli,” Museo Diego Rivera 64/65. Mexico: Artes de México, 1965

This volume of Artes de México interests me in particular because it contains unique documents and photographs of Anahuacalli, the studio and museum that Diego Rivera was never able to live in. Inside, we find an image of the original sketch for the building, which had a palm-frond roof instead of the cast concrete roof that we know today.


Photo by the artist
“Artes de México. Guadalajara” 94/95. Mexico: Artes de México, 1967

This volume of Artes de México is dedicated to the city of Guadalajara, and interests me because of the documentation of some houses in a modern architectural style. Artes de México is a magazine still readily available; it’s not one of my favorites since the topics are very broad and varied, but without a doubt, there are very interesting volumes.

Librería El Tomo Suelto
Donceles 42
Centro, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City


Photo by the artist
“Language of Vision: Painting, Photography, Advertising, Design,” György Kepes. Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1951

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, teacher and theoretician who emigrated to the United States in 1937. He taught classes at the Chicago Bauhaus and also founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies in MIT, where he taught until 1974. This book is dedicated to visual expression and the role of art in society. The book includes work by Arp, Klee, Man Ray, and Sutnar, among others. The book is hard to find in Mexico, but it is not well-known and for this reason it can be obtained for a good price.


Photo by the artist
“Gute Möbel-Schöne Räune,” Kurt Hoffmann, Stuttgart: Julius Hoffmann Verlag, 1959

Probably my favorite book among the discoveries included here, Gute Möbel-Schöne Räune book is extraordinary in terms of its design, photography, layout and content. It is a catalog of “good furniture” of the time, in which we find objective photographs and construction sketches, as well as descriptions for these and their materials. The presented furniture selection is very broad and interesting. It is a very beautiful book, published by the same publishers that put out several books on Nazi architecture in the 1930s—also very beautiful books that showed the dark side of design and form, and that it can be used as a tool by enterprises of terror as well.

Librería Las Tres Cruces
Tres cruces 99
Coyoacán,  Mexico City


Photo by the artist
Interiors + Industrial Design, Nov. 1953. New York: Whitney Publications Inc. Cover by Aldo Giurgola

Interiors was the best magazine about industrial and interior design published in the United States, especially during Olga Gueft and George Nelson’s years. This volume includes an article about the “half-globe” chair by Lina Bo Bardi, which was also used by Aldo Giurgola to illustrate the cover.


Photo by the artist
Interiors + Industrial Design, Nov. 1964. New York: Whitney Publications Inc. Cover by Joan Lombardi

Another great issue of Interiors, which includes an article about Gaerry Griffith, the first blacksmith who was able to successfully fabricate Mies van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona chair for industrial production.


Photo by the artist
Domus, Vol. 319. June 1956. Milan: Domus

The celebrated magazine, edited by Gio Ponti, which in this issue includes work by Antonio Gaudí, Félix Candela, Greta Magnusson, the same Ponti, Tapio Wirkkala, Isamu Noguchi and Angelo Managiarotti, among others. What else could you ask for?


Photo by the artist
Calli, Vol. 28. July-August, 1967. Mexico: Calli, A.C.

Calli was one of the Mexican magazines about contemporary architecture during the 1960s and 1970s, which was dedicated to creating a systematic and current critique of its time and included writings by Rafael López Rangel, Alberto Hijar, and Raquel Tibol among others. This issue includes works by Juan O’Gorman, the architect David Cymet L. and the architect Abel Aguirre Terán.


Photo by the artist
American Home, 192 How-to-do-its. U.S.A.: The Cuneo Press, Inc.

An American “how-to” magazine that has no year of publication or publishing information, but include 192 “do-it-yourself” projects. It’s a good practical guide for the home and more.


Photo by the artist
Órgano de Promoción Turística de los Gobiernos de los Estados- Centros Turísticos de México. Mexico: Editorial Gráfica de México, October 1968

Published for the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, this book is a guide of the tourism centers of the country, created by the Órgano de Promoción Turística de los Gobiernos de los Estados (Group for Tourism Promotion of the State Governments). The slogan of the guide is “Demonstrating the principles of Mexico.”