Established by Albert Skira in Lausanne in 1928, soon after the publishing house moves to Geneva, where it maintains its headquarters for over sixty years. Its first editions are legendary: the Metamorphoses by Ovid, illustrated by Pablo Picasso with thirty original engravings, and the Poèsies by Stèphane Mallarmè, accompanied by twenty-nine gravures by Henri Matisse.
Skira opens an office in Paris, and becomes a place of encounter for key artists of that time, and surrealists in particular. The Minotaure is born, the legendary magazine directed by Andrè Breton and Paul Eluard, which publishes the works of Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp, Dalí, Miró, Magritte, as well as the early writings of Jacques Lacan and the photos of Man Ray and Brassaï.
During World War II, Skira’s activity plunges, but in 1948 the publisher celebrates its twentieth anniversary and Henri Matisse designs the cover of its catalogue: the head of a woman that would later become Skira’s sort of “unofficial” logo.
The 1950s and 1960s
The 1950s and 1960s stand out for the publisher’s great international success. The famous Grand Books are born, with their applied plates, reproduced and printed at unbelievably high standards. The complexity and ambition of the series range from histories of painting (Italian, French, Flemish) to treasures of Oriental culture and attention for emerging contemporary phenomena, like the affirmation of American art, from Willem de Kooning to Jasper Johns. Authors include some of the most prestigious art historians of the age, from Lionello Venturi and Andrè Chastel to Giulio Carlo Argan, but also intellectuals and poets like Louis Aragon, Roland Barthes and Jacques Prèvert. The characteristic logo with its slender and elongated letters becomes a sort of “certified designation of origin”: no one on the international scene can compete. Skira publishes in all languages, and this multinational logo becomes the very symbol of quality fine art books across the world.
Albert Skira suddenly dies in 1973. His wife Rosabianca, the daughter of Lionello Venturi, tries to carry on by using the same mechanisms that made the publishing house a success during its golden age. But the founder’s innovation is missing. Also, the world of publishing is profoundly changing from a design, technological and distribution point of view. The publishing house gradually loses its “uniqueness” even though it is still very prestigious. Its dimensions and ambitions are greatly downsized. The family gives up ownership to Flammarion and, later, to the Swiss company, Edipresse, which later yields it back to the family.
In 1996, Massimo Vitta Zelman and Giorgio Fantoni (former majority shareholders of Electa Einaudi, later ceded to Mondadori) purchase Skira from the family, planning a grand relaunch. The company from Geneva becomes a holding, though also maintaining a publishing business in Switzerland. The headquarters are moved to Milan in the sixteenth-century Palazzo Casati Stampa. A new chapter begins. After five years, the new titles each year rises from less than ten to over two hundred. Skira resumes publishing in more than one language, reaffirming its internationalism. Publishing choices are made with the help of prestigious figures, from Federico Zeri to Carlo Bertelli, Vittorio Gregotti to Germano Celant. A series of Grand Books is born, which unite scholarship with particular quality, thanks to innovative research on materials and new reproduction techniques. Alongside the publisher’s traditional visual arts interests we also find architecture, design and applied arts. Special attention is set aside for primitive and extra-European arts, which are given their own international series. Three series devoted to non-fiction and essays are created: the Art Library, the Architecture Library and Skira paperbacks, handy and successful reference tools dedicated to the modern and contemporary world. The Modern Art Archives host the grand catalogues raisonnés of artists from the 1800s and 1900s. What becomes important, in this field, is the alliance between Skira and the Institute Wildenstein in Paris for the publication of fundamental catalogues raisonnés on Paul Gauguin, Albert Marquet, Édouard Vuillard, Camille Pissarro. Finally, the publisher greatly stands out for its role in important exhibitions, ensuring the publications for the most important shows of those years, including the monographs dedicated to Giambattista Tiepolo, Lorenzo Lotto, El Greco, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Sandro Botticelli and Raphael, the survey shows of Edvard Munch, Amedeo Modigliani, René Magritte, Marc Chagall, Ernst Kirchner and events on the Longobards, the Renaissance and Italian twentieth-century art. The impressive expertise of Skira and its staff and the ability to join quality and rapidity make the publishing house a constant liaison for many Italian and international institutions.
Twenty years later: Skira today
Today’s Skira is an international publisher, with offices in Milan, Rome, Paris and New York, and publishes over 250 new titles each year as well as work on important exhibitions and museum services.
The brand has become, once again, a synonym for quality fine art publishing around the world.
The Italian market is the main one, but around one-third of its income derives from publications in foreign languages and its relationships with important international institutions. Visual arts remain the main publishing activity, especially the Grand books series and the catalogues raisonnés of modern and contemporary artists, a key tool for research, collecting and the market. Plus there are series of essays (Art Library, Skira paperbacks, SMS), art guides and catalogues of prestigious private and public collections, while Skira Masters, Skira Mini ART books are all handy illustrative books that display the life and work of great art masters and the most important Italian art sites. On an international level, architecture, with two series devoted to key players and one dedicated to historical-critical essays, is also present, along with special attention for the decorative arts, design and fashion. Another important part of the international programme over the past few years is photography: together with monographs on international photographers we find the publication in four volumes of photography history from the origins to today. Finally, for children, the publisher offers Skira Kids, with illustrated stories and colouring books inspired by the grand Masters and important art cities. The catalogues raisonnés remain the publisher’s strong point around the globe: richly illustrated and accompanied by technical entries of works, these volumes include the complete oeuvre of single artists and constitute an indispensible tool for scholars and collectors across the world. These catalogues raisonnés include: Lucio Fontana, Le Corbusier, Piero Manzoni, Marino Marini, Fausto Melotti, Piet Mondrian, Ennio Morlotti, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Mimmo Rotella, Gino de Dominicis, Louise Nevelson, Mimmo Paladino, Paolo Scheggi, Rolf Nesch, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Enrico Castellani, Agostino Bonalumi, Silvio Pasotti.
Skira also enters the realm of quality fiction with two series, Narrativa e Storie, intended to carve out a prestigious place in Italian publishing. These series include prestigious authors such as, among others, Colette, Stefen Zweig, Max Frisch, Rebecca West, Fernanda Pivano as well as contemporary authors like Antonia Arslan, Andrea Camilleri, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Hans Tuzzi, Carlo Lucarelli, Giuseppe Sgarbi, Stefano Malatesta, Aldo Nove, Maurizio De Giovanni.
Skira, a supranational logo
Among the historic features of Skira an important place is occupied by the ante litteram choice of not identifying with one single country and not yielding to foreigners the rights to their own works, but rather to publish in the main languages under its own brand, imposing it as a supranational logo. Today, Skira offers a multilingual publishing programme or, rather, distinct publishing programmes, corresponding to equally distinct geographic and linguistic areas of intervention. Books in Italian are more numerous, and include, among others, catalogues for major exhibitions in Italy, and are distributed in bookshops by Messaggerie Libri, with promotions entrusted to PDE. The line in English is second in importance: the distribution is entrusted to Thames & Hudson, a traditional partner for Skira on many publishing projects, and whose network, in London, includes branches around the world, from South Africa to Malaysia and Australia. Books in French, fundamental for what is Skira’s past, are distributed by Flammarion.
Important exhibitions, in Italy and the World
Today, Skira is probably the most important publisher of catalogues for major events around the globe, with at least 50 major titles each year. But the company is also, and above all, the most important player in Italy regarding the conception and production of exhibitions.
For years, Skira has also taken part in the production of important exhibitions. Initially with an in-house Exhibitions Division, but in 2015 the task force joined Mondo Mostre, guided by Tomaso Radaelli and Simone Todorow, and gave rise to a Joint Venture Mondo Mostre Skira dedicated to prestigious exhibitions.
Mondo Mostre Skira works independently or alongside the most important Italian and international public institutions. Skira’s international presence make collaboration and partnerships possible with the greatest museums and cultural institutions around the world, from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris to the Kunshistorisches Museum in Vienna, from the Louvre to the National Gallery in Washington, from the Munch Museum in Oslo to the Dalí Foundation in Figueras, from the Centre Pompidou to the Guggenheim in Bilbao and New York. Degas, Renoir, Monet, Bacon, Cézanne, Segantini, Leonardo, Arcimboldo are some of the events produced and conceived by Skira in recent years.
The know-how of Mondo Mostre and Skira Grandi Mostre unites in Mondo Mostre Skira in Milan and Rome, which is becoming a more important partner, thanks to a consolidated network with the key public and private institutions working in the field of cultural events.
Mondo Mostre Skira guarantees the full service of financing, organization and promotion as well as a series of prime services like ticket office, communications, promotion, marketing, special events and sponsor search, plus, on the spot bookshops, of the entire publishing offer, from books to merchandising for each event and pop-up book stores.
Mondo Mostre Skira co-produces exhibitions in association with public and private counterparts, offering events, engineering requests or initial ideas, investing and, in many cases, taking the main risks. It curates sponsor searches and all organizational phases (scientific project, relationship with lenders, curators, authors, researchers, shipping, insurance, installation, communication, advertising, press office, ticket office, guided tours, education) and is responsible for the entire publishing line through Skira (layout, design, translations, all technical/production stages) and commercial line (distribution in Italian and foreign book stores, exhibition shop design and management) as well as merchandising. Mondo Mostre Skira conducts, for its own exhibitions, complex communication campaigns that can include press office activities, street signs, dynamic ads (radio, TV, billboards), distribution of promotional materials and magazine/newspaper inserts, promoting with specific categories, special Internet sites, social media presence.