Wrongness in the Walls: M&Co. Remembered

STEP INSIDE DESIGN
Wrongness in the Walls: M&Co. Remembered
By Tiffany Meyers, May/June 2006

In 1988, Tibor Kalman, designer Emily Oberman, and intern Scott Stowell were frequently left at New York’s Ceasar Video without adult supervision in the middle of the night. They were working at the edit facility on M&Co.’s music video for the Talking Heads’ “(Nothing But) Flowers,” a typographically driven solution that would both break new ground and take an inordinate amount of time to produce.

Kalman had arranged a deal whereby M&Co. could use the facility 24 hours a day during the video’s production, giving them the run of the place after business hours—and often past 4 a.m. Hilarity of the kind that accompanies caffeine and overwork ensued. And Oberman recalls one night in particular, when Kalman removed every poster from every wall in the facility—Joseph Beuys prints, if her memory serves—and rehung each piece upside down.

When Ceasar Video staffers arrived for work the next day, there was intrigue and confusion—and finally, the decision to embrace the upended art. “And for as long as I continued to go to that facility, it stayed up that way,” says Oberman, now partner of Number 17 in New York, whose term at M&Co. from 1987 to 1993 was the longest run of any employee in the firm’s 14-year lifespan.

M&Co.’s sprawling mythology brims with antics along these lines, many with the same Marx Brothers’ quality. But the story of Ceasar Video and the art on its walls is a particularly tidy metaphor for Kalman’s preternatural ability to wrench audiences out of what they’d come to rely on as proper and right.

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Building a Biennial

Step Inside Design
The Inaugural Chicago International Poster Biennial
By Tiffany Meyers

In the exhibition space of Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe’s masterpiece on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, a group of young women weave in and out of the crowd. It’s hard not to stare; they’re all wearing chic, vibrant mini-dresses whose similar A-line cuts can’t be coincidental. They look like a girl gang of fashionistas in coordinated party outfits.In fact, they’re part of the exhibition, which is kicking off the first-ever Chicago International Poster Biennial (CIPB), a free-to- enter, open-call poster competition and exhibition.

On the walls that evening: Award-winning posters designed by the biennial’s 11 jurors, some of the most celebrated designers in the world. On the models: Dresses made of fabric on which a different juror’s poster has been printed.

Here walks Michel Bouvet’s 2007 poster for the Arles photography festival. And there, in strappy heels, click-clacks John Massey’s famous 1978 Eames Soft Pad Group poster for Herman Miller. In all there are 12 dresses, the extra one representing a poster designed for the CIPB itself by Yann Legendre, who launched the biennial with designer and studio partner Lance Rutter. It’s hard to imagine how she pulled it off, but Rutter’s wife Miki Shim-Rutter made the dresses—a silent auction for them brought in just over $3600 that night—in two weeks.

But then, the CIPB itself begs the same question: How in the name of graphic design did these two practitioners, who have a fulltime staff of three (including themselves), manage to draw 1600 entries from 460 designers without a lick of marketing—and despite efforts from the angry gods of fundraising to thwart their goals? In no particular order: Tenacity, freshly forged connections and the kind of blind faith without which no one would ever undertake to do the impossible.

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A Show of Emotion

STEP Magazine
A Show of Emotion:
Review of the STEP’s Design 100 Awards Show
By Tiffany Meyers

In an era troubled by economic, environmental & social distress, designers lean toward messages of compassion.

In one way or another, each of the five judges of the STEP Design 100 described this body of winning design entries as exquisite. But those who worship at the altar of the avant guard will want to take a seat now: It doesn’t happen to be the riskiest body of work these judges have seen in their collective awards show experience.  

“We’re at a place in time where relatively simple and conservative but tasteful approaches are more the norm,” says judge Kevin Grady, editor-in-chief and creative director of Lemon magazine and partner at Grady & Metcalf in Concord, Mass. “And sometimes that’s OK. The goal of design isn’t to do wacky things just to see what you can get away with. A lot of the winning work wasn’t selected because it was necessarily groundbreaking, but it was very beautifully done, very confident work. I’d say that was more a hallmark of the show and its winners than anything else.”

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Design at Warp Speed

STEP Magazine
Design at warp speed
By Tiffany Meyers 

Designer Dario Antonioni, who has created retail environments for DKNY and Ralph Lauren, among others, aims to tell stories through his spaces. In the case of travel boutique Flight 001, the narrative centers on the legendary Pan Am Flight 001, which circumnavigated the globe in the 1960s.

Antonioni’s clean materials, including Plexiglass, walnut paneling, and Pirelli tiles, recreate the bygone glamour of international travel. But beneath the store’s glimmering surfaces, undertones of wit emerge, like the cash wrap shown here, designed to look like an airport ticket counter.

When asked to name the designers who have most influenced his work, industrial designer Dario Antonioni rattles off a list of figures whose innovations fit more appropriately in airport hangars than on display at the Cooper-Hewitt. They’re people like Howard Hughes, the Wright brothers, and Burt Rutan, the aerospace engineer who decided NASA was moving too slowly toward commercial space tourism so he created his own shuttle, the SpaceshipOne.

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