Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The History of Art Museum Catalog Design

I had just a few minutes left
at the Cincinnati Art Museum
(while Beth was applying eyeliner
out in the parking out)

.. when I stumbled upon this sad notice
up on a wall near the museum entrance.

Noel Martin had just died,
and the museum was giving him a tribute.
(as did the New York Times )

Two years ago, I wrote about him here

And here he is,
as he appeared in his salad days
(his mouth a bit crooked
because it needed to be
holding up a pipe)

As it turns out,
I wasn't the only artist's kid
who visited his wonderfully cluttered studio
hidden behind a secret door
in the depths of the cavernous art museum.

Danny Leonard,
the son of designer William Leonard
(shown above at the far left, Martin is 3rd from left)
also took that magical trip,
and remembers all the swatches
of color and paper that cluttered that small office/studio
with the very high ceiling.
(the two artists then sent him off to play in the museum,
while they pulled out the Jack Daniels)

Martin is recognized
for bringing modern graphic design
into the world of art museum publications.

Do you see that dynamic, strong logo
that he made for them 50 years ago ?

Now, compare it with the wimpy version shown above,
that the C.A.M. is using these days.
(presumably to present a more family-friendly face to the public)

or compare it with the design
of museum publications from
earlier decades,
like this one
from the Chicago Art Institute in 1939.

Yikes !

It's as if they didn't care about design at all.

or look at this catalog
for an A.I.C. sculpture exhibit
that ran for 6 months in the same year.

American art museums had a much different
approach to their publications back in those days.

They just didn't care.

(though, I would rather have them
still have exhibits of local sculptors,
regardless of how carelessly the catalog was made)

What fun it must have been to
design all these graphics
for so many different kinds of shows

and to pick through
all the latest textures and colors of paper
that were available to him to use.

(and that manufacturers made sure
that he had at his disposal)

He was especially into typography,
and followed the latest designs,
which usually came from Germany.

(Danny tells me that in addition to a free studio
in exchange for his design work,
the art museum also let him use their phone line,
so he could talk with designers in Europe
at no extra charge)

Can you feel
how much fun he had
when designing this one ?

I can smell his aromatic pipe,
and hear his Wes Montgomery record
playing in the background.


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