Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EXHIBITIONS: "Everything is Design": Paul Rand's Picasso-esque graphics at MCNY

Quotes from the artist on vitrines at MCNY's Paul Rand exhibition
                                                                         photo by Michael Schonbach

     "Everything is Design. Everything!"  ... 
"Design is so simple -- that's why it's complicated."  

How could you not love a designer who says things like this? Paul Rand, whose playful, jazzy and clever graphics are currently on display through October 13 at the Museum of the City of New York , is not exactly a household name, but his influence on our visual world is profound. Known within the advertising community as "the Picasso of graphic design" and a consummate logo-maker (he created iconic logos for Ford, IBM, Yale University Press, UPS, Westinghouse and ABC; Steve Jobs hired him in 1985 to create branding imagery for his fledgling computer company NeXT), Rand is recognized for his use of strong geometrical shapes, bold typefaces and straighforward, unsentimental message presentation. 

"A logo is more important in a certain sense than a painting because a 
zillion people see the logo and it affects what they do, it affects their taste, 
it affects the appearance of where they live, it affects everything.” ... Paul Rand

In the1930s, just twenty years old, Rand launched a successful six-decade career as a graphic illustrator, with his audacious magazine cover design. His parents owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, and his earliest drawing was inspired by -- and later actually became -- the signage at their market. By the age of 23, he was the art director of Esquire and Apparel Arts magazines.

Rand's original name was Peretz Rosenbaum; he changed it due to anti-semitism in the advertising agencies, well-documented in TV's Mad Men. He is also said to have liked the visual symmetry of a 4 letters + 4 letters name.

His love of color and whimsy is evident in these early designs:

1939 cover for Apparel Arts, 
a men's fashion magazine

     Jazzways magazine cover design, 1946

Idea: International Advertising Art magazine,1955

                                                                                              Direction magazine cover, 1942

"When I designed a cover of Direction, I was really trying to compete with the Bauhaus, not with Norman Rockwell,” wrote Rand. “I was working in the spirit of Van Doesburg, Leger, and Picasso. It was not old fashioned. To be old fashioned is, in a way, a sin."

The MCNY exhibition contains 150 examples of vintage magazines, book covers, posters, decorative packaging, children’s books and Rand's own writings about principles of design. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to demonstrating how Rand's attention-grabbing creations, which relied on the intelligence of the viewer rather than a hard-sell approach, shook up Madison Avenue during the 1940s and early 1950s. His singular skill at merging text and image elevated design to a level equal to, and eventually superseding, that of copywriting.

                                                                              Gift box for El Producto cigars, 1952 

I Know A Lot of Things, a 1956 book designed by Paul Rand 
and written by his wife, Ann Rand

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand, 1947

"To all children who like ice cream ..."

IBM facility in Rochester Minnesota
IBM logo and graphic identity designed by Paul Rand.
Photo courtesy of IBM Corporate Archives

                                                                                                IBM ad for Latin America outreach  

"I haven't changed my mind about Modernism from the first day I ever did it ... It means
integrity; it means honesty; it means the absence of sentimentality and the absence of nostalgia; it means simplicity; it means clarity. That's what Modernism means to me."

Rand taught at the Pratt Institute and was a professor at Yale University for forty years.  Named one of the ten best art directors in history by the Museum of Modern Art, he is considered to be a member of the "trinity" of great American corporate designers, which also includes Saul Bass and Milton Glaser. 

Rand even designed his own gravestone, utilizing the
 4 + 4 letter pattern that he liked so much.

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For more information about Everything is Design
at the Museum of the City of NY,
link here

JEWEL BOXES: A bright, newly expanded Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio

An ultra-luminous 50,000 square foot expansion of the Columbus Museum of Art 
will open its doors to the public on Sunday, October 25, 2015. 

On view for opening day will be two new exhibitions: 
 Keeping Pace: Eva Glimcher and Pace/Columbus 
and Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954–1966. 

The new wing will serve as a temporary home for high-profile traveling 
exhibitions, and will also highlight the museum's permanent collection. 

A light filled entry concourse serves as the project’s central organizing element.
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With this exciting transformation, the CMA is certain to establish itself as a 
world-class museum  and destination venue.

Among the improvements to the CMA are:

             • A new entrance and entryway experience
                 • A reimagining of the entire first floor as a Center for Creativity
                         • A huge new skylight
             • Comfortable seating and an improved sound system in the auditorium
                 • A new Sculpture Garden, restaurant and store
                         • Upgraded handicapped accessibility

The new building is clad with pre-patinated copper, 
and sits above a first floor gallery defined by limestone and glass exteriors.

                                           Sculpture Garden
“Museums aren’t just about art — they’re about people and art and the electric connection between art and people -- bringing that relationship  to life,” says Nanette Maciejunes, executive director of the CMA. "Art spaces need to encourage you just to come in, hang out and linger. That visitor-centered-ness comes through with this project, which is very contemporary."

                                  °     °     °     °     °     °     °     °     °     °                                                                                                                                                                Photos by Brad Feinknopf, used courtesy of the CMA.

For more info, link here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ODD BITS: Princeton Architectural Press introduces jazzy paper goods

I've been drawn to colorful and stylish paper design
ever since I was a child. Princeton Architectural Press' new line of
of paper goods is right up my alley, starting with these pattern papers,
which have significantly jazzed up my gift-wrapping skills.

                                                            I really like the pattern roll, both for its unique paper 
                                                               designs, and for the utility of its "delivery system".


Little notepads with fun covers are also included in this new line.

Above: These three pocket-sized journals are decorated with artist 
Paula Scher's "obsessively detailed, highly personal" city maps.

                                           Some of you may recognize these "The Architect Says" notepads
                                        from my blog giveaway last month. Dear PAP: Everybody loved them!

Inspired by classic Italian packaging, designer Louise Fili has created this 
12-pencil collection in six "tutti frutti" shades, ideal for drawing or writing.

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To see more notebooks, postcards, stationery and sticky pads,
link here.

EVENTS: Vienna Design Week, September 25 - October 4

A feast of modernism is set to start today at
a city-wide festival of enticing design-related events scheduled daily
from September 25 through October 4, 2015.
Last year 35,000 visitors enjoyed this eclectic showcase, which now 
enters its ninth year. Opening up creative processes and encouraging 
experimentation on site are core elements of the festival's concept.


                         Pendant lamp by Lights of Vienna 

Lights of Vienna – renowned developers and manufacturers of decorative lighting – 
are forward-looking and open to the fresh ideas of young designers. Their credo is 
“It’s the light that makes good architecture into unique architecture.”.

Lighting designs by Lights On Lights Off


GOODGOODs -- a line of utilitarian objects for the home – are produced by people 
with physical or mental disabilities. Organized by Austrian designers, nine studios 
conceived useful products and facilitated integrative workshops in which the objects were handcrafted; bottle openers, bags, pegging games, brushes, boxes, baskets, and cooking spoons demonstrate the producers’ skills and motivation.

Established in Budapest, the internationally renowned WAMP (Wasárnapi Művész Piac) Design Markt will have a strong presence in Vienna this year. WAMP has become 
"A place of encounter for design, urbanity, and globetrotters!"

Below: scenes from the WAMP Design Markt, located in Vienna's trendy Museums Quartier.

The Design Markt -- a showcase for more than 700 international designers-- is one of the best known premium events in Central Europe and has developed into the place-to-be for designers, creative people and trendsetters. 

Link here for more information.

Friday, September 11, 2015

EXHIBITIONS: "Revolution of the Eye" -- through Sept. 27 at the Jewish Museum in NYC

While wandering around the Jewish Museum's absorbing exhibition "Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television", I began to realize how much of my fascination with Modernism was a natural outgrowth of the 1950s television shows I watched and loved as a kid. It was through these shows that I first was exposed to an avant-garde sensibility, conceptual art, surrealism and a trippy kind of humor. Some social commentators considered the nascent medium to be sinister -- even a vehicle for mind control -- while others took a more visionary view; they saw its potential for offering dynamic new ways of picturing the world, like modern art had done before it.

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Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted with an exuberant excerpt from Barbra Streisand's 1966 Color Me Barbra special,  which was filmed  on location in the modern galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She dances forwards and backwards through sculptures and around paintings. Her song "Gotta Move" expresses yearning for a “brand new place,” where no one will tell her “what to be or how to be it, someplace where I can just be me.” 

"This scene represents a meeting of two powerful cultural forces: television and modern art. 
In the two decades leading up to Color Me Barbra, the pioneers of American television—many, 
like Streisand, young, Jewish, and aesthetically adventurous—
had adopted modernism as a source of inspiration."
                                                                                                                          ... Maurice Berger
                                                                                                                                       Exhibition curator

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And now ... cue up the theme music ... to enter ...
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a
dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle
ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and
it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone."
Opening narration, The Twilight Zone, Season One, 1959

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, a particular favorite of mine, integrated Surrealism, Dadaism, disorienting camera angles, and other experimental techniques into its transfixingly creepy yet message-driven plot lines. Though I could never have defined any of these terms of art at the age of 8 or 9, I certainly knew that something strange and new was going on here! (When I eventually learned how much of Serling's sensibility came from his post-WWII PTSD, his enduring despair over the Holocaust, and his enlightened views on racial equality, it all started to make sense.)
"Uh ... stewardess ...?"
(Is there anyone who was't freaked out by 
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"?)

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On a lighter note ...

"Winky Dink", the first truly interactive TV show, invited its young viewers to participate in the unfolding of the plot -- usually consisting of Winky getting himself into some kind of scrape -- by affixing a transparent green vinyl "Magic Screen" to their television sets, and drawing on it with special crayons. "Save Winky Dink by drawing in a bridge across a raging river, just in time!" I sent in my 50¢ (by mail, in quarters) and was the proud recipient of a Complete Magic Drawing Set. (At the height of the show's popularity, 1955, 25,000 letters and sets of quarters were coming in every week.)

The show inspired young Americans "to create and explore the possibilities of visual art, exemplifying, as well, the virtues of the new medium as an instrument of 
art making and instruction."
... Maurice Berger
                                                                                                                                       Exhibition curator

Random factoid: The voice of Winky was Mae Questel, who played the original Betty Boop!

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For its groundbreaking emphasis on visual aesthetic and top-notch programming, CBS became known as "The Tiffany Network". Frank Stanton, president of the network from 1946 to 1973 and himself a collector of avant-garde art, hired cutting-edge art directors and graphic designers, to create a consistent corporate image; the CBS eye logo is still in use today. It was during this era that graphic design rose in importance and gained equal status with copywriting.

Many of CBS's promotional materials 
were designed by noted lithographer Ben Shahn.
Lithuania-born and Brooklyn-raised, his family had suffered terribly
from anti-Semitism in Russia, and he became
one of the most politically outspoken artists of his time.

      "Thou shalt not stand idly by", Ben Shahn, 1965

"The Big Push", CBS marketing graphic
Ben Shahn, 1957

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The always rebellious Ernie Kovacs set a new standard for TV comedy. Bizarre, briliant, perplexing, hilarious, he never ceased to amaze viewers with his singular brand of comedy, which incorporated kaleidoscopic imagery, odd perspectives, dream sequences, self-propelled inanimate objects, distorted close-ups, dissolves, double exposures, superimposition, gorilla costumes and pointed asides to the home audience. To me, he was the MAD magazine of television.

"Ernie Kovacs was one of the first performers and producers to understand and employ television as a 'true medium', capable of being conceived and applied in a variety of ways,” wrote TV critic J. Hoberman. "He recognized the potential of live electronic visual technology and manipulated it in ways both dynamic and artful."

Above: The Nairobi Trio playing "Solfeggio"
(Ernie Kovacs is the gorilla being hit on the head.)
Video is here.
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I continue to be astonished by the number of Jewish executives, directors, writers, comics, musicians, artists and designers who were seminal figures in the mid-century Modernist world. As usual, Groucho has the last word ...

Visit the Jewish Museum's website for more information about
"Revolution of the Eye".