New exhibit pays homage to Milton Glaser, the Jewish design icon who invented the “I Love NY” logo
By Julia Gergely
(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – Most New Yorkers recognize the “I Love New York” logo, which can be found on everything from coffee mugs and snow globes to boxers. Fewer, however, might recognize the man behind the logo, Milton Glaser. One of the most prolific graphic designers of the 20th century, his designs have helped shape the New York experience over the past half century.
A new exhibit at the School of Visual Arts’ Gramercy Gallery, “SVA Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser,” attempts to capture the process and legacy of the designer, who was a teacher at the school from 1960 to 2017. The exhibition invites visitors to discover how graphic design – and Glaser’s designs, in particular – shapes our daily lives. Some displays of Glaser’s impressive work include album covers, a “Mad Men” poster, New York Magazine covers (Glaser co-founded the magazine in 1968), the Brooklyn Brewery logo, the DC logo Comics, the Celebrate Israel Parade logo and much more.
“There are things that people have interacted with continually in their lifetime – you know, a million times – but maybe didn’t even realize that was Milton Glaser’s job,” said Beth Kleber, head of SVA’s Milton Glaser Archives, which opened in 2003.
An introductory panel to the exhibit explains Glaser’s pedagogy, “Art for Life” – his belief in building a common art experience that is disseminated throughout the city. A lifelong New Yorker, Glaser was born in the Bronx in 1929. He attended the High School of Music and Art (now LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts) and graduated from Cooper Union College in 1951. He co-founded the influential Push Pin Studios in 1954, and throughout his career Glaser has shown his love for the city through his designs.
âIt’s really deep,â said Kleber, considering how much his work has shaped New York and its culture over the past half century. âNew York City was so important to him. It gave him enthusiasm, all the intellectual and cultural stimulation that you get from living here. It is the basis of much of his work.
Glaser was Jewish, although he didn’t talk about it often. Yet many of his design ideas came from his Jewish background and the idea that he never felt “at home in any culture,” as he said in a 2009 interview with the magazine. Hadassah.
A recreation of Glaser’s desk takes up much of one of the exhibits and shows how Glaser found design in everything from seashells and a box of pencils to coins and stamps. In a section titled “The Work Behind the Work”, viewers can see the first drafts of various posters printed throughout Glaser’s career. The city – all the different objects and ideas it contains – comes to life on the pages of Glaser through this visualization of its creative process.
Glaser passed away on June 26, 2020, his 91st birthday.
âIt was so difficult when we were all scattered around and mostly working from home to celebrate it in a way that felt really meaningful,â Kleber said. âWhen we got back to the office, we felt like we had the opportunity to present his work in a way that most people could benefit from. “
Another part of the exhibit is designed almost like a miniature city block, so all of Glaser’s designs can be put into context. A stand of fortune books presents its covers of books; Nearby is a restaurant-like stand that contains its food and wine labels. A fake record store features dozens of album covers it has made over the years.
âIt’s a really fun way to experience his work, putting it in the real world context,â Kleber said. “It was a way to present it better, or reintroduce it to students and people who might recognize things but not know who was responsible for it.”
“SVA Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser” is on view until January 15, 2022 at the SVA Gramercy Gallery at 209 East 23rd Street. Prior registration is compulsory.
Main photo: The Gramercy Gallery at the School of Visual Arts exhibits Milton Glaser’s love for New York City, with a wall covered with the iconic logo he designed on the back of a cab in 1976 (Julia Gergely)