Mummies and masks popping up all over

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Jane Doonan chooses her favourite interactive art books from museums and galleries

All manner and matters of art go interactive. The Ultimate 3-D Pop-Up Art Book by Ron van der Meer and Frank Whitford (Dorling Kindersley Pounds 15.99) lives up to its title with 25 flaps, 12 three-dimensional models and small-scale colour reproductions of 60 masterpieces. It aims to show that a little knowledge - of techniques, materials, artists' intentions and styles - will greatly enhance pleasure. It comes with an activity book full of ideas for fledgling artists of about 12 years and over.

Egyptian Mummies: a pop-up book by Milbry Polk and illustrator Roger Stewart (Bloomsbury Pounds 12.99) gets off to a wonderfully gruesome start by allowing us to play at being a priest and pull out the intestine of a dead pharaoh. Opportunities follow to see the body and to unwrap embalmer's linen. The text, in a formal register, is packed with facts, and, as well as being set within the main illustrations, appears on or under quarter-page vertical flaps; more details are hidden inside canopic jars. This would be a terrific resource for a top junior's history project. The Great Pyramid: an interactive book shaped to match its title is for a slightly younger Egyptologist. The design is particularly effective, with different ways of telling and showing related information. The text by Roscoe Cooper describes the building of Khufu's burial tomb - the Great Pyramid at G za. Pop-up scenes cover the main action with information, definitions, explanations and playful material under flaps, on tabs, as booklets and in envelopes. Illustrations are by Carolyn Croll (British Museum Press Pounds 10.99).

All the three books mentioned above require careful handling. Masks (Dorling Kindersley, in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Pounds 14.99) is simpler in construction and more robust. Three-dimensional masks - a pre-Columbian gold mask, a portrait skull from New Guinea, a Nigerian mask, a helmet visor from Germany and a samurai face guard from Japan - pop up to be pulled out and put on. The text, which sets each mask in its cultural context, is very much at adult level, but is amply illustrated with maps and photographs of jewellery, artefacts, costumes and customs. Facsimiles are printed beneath the pop-ups for reference if the masks are mislaid.

Two small picture books from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Windsor Pounds 10.95 each) encourage interactivity without paper engineering. Both are directed at the very young, but there is much to wonder at for older sharers. A is for Artist: A Getty Museum Alphabet matches a letter with one detail from each of 26 masterpieces in the Getty collection. The result is a sequence of little miracles of artists' technique and style.

Where's the Bear? A Look and Find Book (Windsor Pounds 10.95) is made of 23 close-up animal portraits taken from "The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark", by Jan Brueghel, which is reproduced at the end of the book. Each animal is named alphabetically and phonetically in six languages. The close-ups enable viewers to see the different responses of the animals gathering together, captured in the deft brushwork of a great painter.

Lisbeth Zwerger and Heinz Janisch have created an exceptional picture book - and a successful work of art - in their own Noah's Ark (North-South Pounds 9.99). Apparent simplicity and feeling for page design are characteristics of Zwerger's style. She empties backgrounds and is sparing with figures and objects, often framing them in unworked space. Their isolation allows for a heightening of expressive and metaphorical meaning: less means more. Drawing is sensitive and sure; hues are restrained and subtle.

The visual communication has a complex structure with all kinds of information coming from three sources: narrative representation in large coloured pictures; three large illustrations purporting to be pages of Noah's tabula, with which he identifies his charges; and vignettes on the text page which play on variations on the words. Heinz Janisch's adaptation, translated by Rosemary Lanning, tells the story in poetic cadences, keeping faith with the rituals of the Bible story.

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