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 to snow globes to boxer shorts.
Less, however, might recognize the man behind the logo, Milton Glaser. His designs, one of the most prolific graphic designers of the 20th century, have helped shape the New York experience for the past half century.
A new exhibit at the Gramercy Gallery of the School of Visual Arts, “SVA ❤️ Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser,” attempts to capture the process and legacy of the designer, who was a professor at the school from 1960 to 2017.
The exhibition invites visitors to discover how much graphic design – and Glaser’s designs in particular – define our day. Among the displays of Glaser’s impressive body of work are album covers, a “Mad Men” poster, New York Magazine covers (Glaser co-founded the magazine in 1968), the Brooklyn Brewery logo, the DC Comics logo, the Celebrate Israel Parade logo and much more.
“There are things that people have dealt with all the time over the course of their lives — you know, a million times — but maybe didn’t even realize it was Milton Glaser’s work,” said Beth Kleber, head of SVA’s Milton Glaser Archives, which opened 2003.
An introductory panel in the exhibition explains Glaser’s pedagogy, “Art for Life” – his belief in building a communal experience in art spread throughout the city.
A lifelong New Yorker, Glaser was born in the Bronx in 1929. He attended the High School of Music and Art (what is 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 showed his love for the city through his designs.
“It’s really profound,” Kleber said as she considered how much of his work has shaped New York and its culture over the past half-century. “New York City was so important to him. It gave him excitement, all the intellectual and cultural stimulation you get from living here. It is the basis for much of his work.”
Glaser was Jewish, although he didn’t talk about it often. Still, 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 Hadassah Magazine.
A replica of Glaser’s desk takes up much of one of the rooms in the exhibit, showing the way Glaser found design in everything from seashells to a box of pencils to coins and stamps. In a section titled “The Work Behind the Work,” viewers will see early drafts of various poster prints made during Glaser’s career. The city – all the different objects and ideas it contains – comes alive in Glaser’s pages through this visualization of his creative process.
Glaser died on June 26, 2020, on his 91st birthday.
“It was so hard when we were all scattered and mostly working from home to celebrate him in a way that felt really meaningful,” Kleber said. “When we got back to the office, we felt like we had an opportunity to present his work in a way that would benefit most people.”
Another part of the exhibition is set up almost like a miniature city block, so that all of Glaser’s designs can be given their own context. A makeshift book stand displays its book covers; nearby is a restaurant-like stall with its food and wine labels. A fake record store has dozens of the album covers he’s made over the years.
“It’s a really nice way to experience his work and put it in real context,” Kleber said. “It was a way to better introduce him, or reintroduce him to students and people who may recognize some things but don’t know who was responsible for them.”
“SVA❤️ Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser” is on display through January 15, 2022 at the SVA Gramercy Gallery at 209 East 23rd Street. Pre-registration is required.