Friday, June 29, 2012

Jaume Plensa’s, “The Crown Fountain”: breathing neighborly life into the city and viva the façade as computer screen

Jaume Plensa, The Crown Fountain, 1999–2004, Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois. Photographs by versluis. Top: tandem photos indicating a south view and directly above is a north view. 

The Crown Fountain in Chicago reminded me of a couple of appropos comments that provide interesting insights to the piece. The first is by Calvin Seerveld, Professor of Aesthetics, Emeritus, Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. Seerveld has written the following:

A striking example of large-scale stewardship in art patronage is Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain (1999-2004) in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The two, 50-foot high towers of glass on which 1,000 different Chicago inhabitants’ faces are projected every thirteen minutes, smiling, slowly pursing their lips until a stream of water gushes out of their fountain mouths, preside over 2,200 square meters of black granite covered with a thin sheet (3 millimeters) of water. The wealthy Crown family has not sponsored an expensive piece of museum art plunked down somewhere (such as the Picasso and Miro sculptures a few blocks away) but has given a fortune for genuine public artwork that breathes neighborly life into the city—the distinguishing mark of real public artistry. [1]
The second comment is by Zoë Ryan, the John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design, Department of Architecture and Design, The Art Institute of Chicago. The following comment written by Ms. Ryan was not directly made about the The Crown Fountain, but her reference to Robert Venturi seems fitting when juxtaposed with Seerveld's comment:
Robert Venturi [has called for the integration of] “iconography and electronics that engage digital media as a significant element in architecture.” and going so far as to proclaim: “Viva the façade as computer screen!”[2]
  1. Seerveld, Calvin. “How Should Christians Be Stewards of Art?, A Response to Nathan Jacobs” Journal of Markets & Morality 12.2 (2009): 377-85. Web. 27 June 2012. Cf. Calvin Seerveld, “Cities as a Place for Public Artwork: A Global Approach,” in Globalization and the Gospel: Probing the Religious Foundations of Globalization, ed. Michael W. Goheen and Erin Glanville. Vancouver: Regent Press and Geneva Society, 2009, 53–80. Print.
  2. Ryan, Zoë, and Joseph Rosa. Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design. New Haven and London: The Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2010. 32. Print. Cf. Venturi, Robert, and Denise Scott Brown. Architecture as Signs and Systems. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004. 94-99. Print.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ed Fella: 1995 correspondence envelope

Ed Fella—correspondence with Rick Valicenti, number 10 envelope, 1995;
Ink and Prisma color. The artwork is published with permission.

One of the most delightful and whimsical pieces in Rick Valicenti’s art and graphic design collection at Thirst is this framed envelope art by Ed Fella, postmarked June 6, 1995, Royal Oak, Michigan. As with much of Fella's work he is able to give significance to the ordinary.

To fully appreciate Ed Fella’s artful graphic design one needs to be open to the possibilities and inspiration of graphic design from all sides. Mainly there’s sincerity in Fella’s hand-drawn sketchbook style that’s free from ulterior motives and thus seems ironic—contradicting, in a way, what graphic design should be. This piece conveys Fella’s personality and as someone said, “Ed Fella explored typography beyond what the computer provided.”

Envelope art is interesting because in spite of its unconventionality to postal regulations, the mail carrier can still decipher the address and return address, thus fulfilling delivery to the addressee.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Victor Hammer—to the greater glory of God

This is a Transylvania College, Lexington, Kentucky, announcement for an exhibition of the work of Victor Hammer in the Lexington Public Library, June 10–July 1, 1950. This vintage portrait linocut and American Uncial type were both created and printed by Victor Hammer. Image is from American Artist magazine, June 1962. [1]

Despite the obvious religious imagery illustrated above, Hammer apparently was not an active member of a Christian church; nevertheless, according to Father Thomas Merton, Hammer was a very faithful servant and a believer. (See Father Louie)

Here’s a brief synopsis about Victor Hammer and his Uncial type, written by The Reverend Travis DuPriest, Book Editor for The Living Church:

A Note on Victor Hammer and His Work: 
An Austrian by birth, Victor Hammer (1882–1967) lived and worked throughout Europe and the United States. He was in every sense of the word a Renaissance man and was a close friend of Thomas Merton the monk, Jacques Maritain the philosopher, John Jacob Niles the musician and countless other writers and artists. His paintings and books have been featured in numerous shows; last fall [1995] the Grolier Club of New York City honored him and his wife, Carolyn, with an exhibition of their hand-printed books and prints. His work is a part of private and permanent collections in Munich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Lexington, Ky., Palm Beach, Fla., New York City, London, Paris and elsewhere. He and his family left Austria during World War II and made their way to the United States, where he taught at Wells College, Aurora, N.Y., and Transylvania College, Lexington, KY. He is buried in Lexington. The uncial type he designed and cut and printed with is based on classical and medieval lettering which is quite curvilinear; Hammer preferred this form for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it purposefully slows down the reader and induces a contemplative approach to the page, the book and the ideas. [2] 
  1. Ettenberg, Eugene M. “Graphic Arts: U.S.A.” American Artist June 1962: 110. Print. 
  2. Holbrook, Paul E. “The Art/Craft of Victor Hammer.” The Archives of the Episcopal Church: The Living Church, 1995-2001. Ed. Christopher S. Wells. The Living Church Foundation Inc., 17 Nov. 1996. Web. 19 June 2012.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Translucent color and light: Morton Goldsholl and graphic design modernism

The image above is the title page from a 1948 textbook on color theory by Egbert Jacobsen. The book was designed and illustrated by Chicago based graphic designer, Morton Goldsholl. In this particular design Goldsholl gives the sensation of translucent color and color boundaries while the typography is nuanced, yet graphically bold. Goldsholl studied under Moholy-Nagy at the New Bauhaus in Chicago in the late 1930s. Basic Color: An Interpretation of the Ostwald Theory was written by Egbert Jacobsen and published by Paul Theobald, Chicago in 1948.

This image is a black and white version of the previous piece from a June 1962 article in American Artist titled “Graphic Arts: U.S.A.” In the caption Eugene Ettenberg describes the design as an “Early use of piggyback typography.” [1]

Obviously, the element of color in art and graphic design has the power to express boldness, mood, or a nuanced idea.  R. Roger Remington has written that, “Morton Goldsholl, a student of Moholy-Nagy’s, began his business in Chicago and put into practice many of the principles he had learned from his teacher about light, sequence and formalism in design.” [2]

Moholy-Nagy was convinced that design could make a better world. Egbert Jacobson was the knowledgeable and progressive corporate designer for the Container Corporation and one of the founder’s of CCA’s Center for Advance Research in Design.

Goldsholl’s sans serif typography and design is indicative of formal principles by twentieth century Cubists’ straight and curved lines along with color combinations influenced by the Futurists’ blend of art and science. The classical composition juxtaposes well the bold sans serif typography of “Basic Color” and is balanced by the smaller italic serif type for the subhead, “An Interpretation of the Ostwald Theory”. Goldsholl’s layout is derived from the ideology of Mondrian’s division of space.

In 1991 Goldsholl had a wonderful retrospective show, which was organized by the American Center for Design (ACD) and displayed in their gallery on East Ontario Street. The ACD was formerly the Society of Typographic Arts (STA). The opening reception was a special moment that included Morton’s wife, business partner and design collaborator Millie as well as their children and their families.

  1. Ettenberg, Eugene M. “Graphic Arts: U.S.A.” American Artist June 1962: 110. Print.
  2. Remington, R. Roger. American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 to 1960. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. 123. Print.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Herbert Matter’s 1955 History of Writing Mural for the Grosse Pointe Public Library

The Central branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library was designed by architect Marcel Breuer and opened in 1953 in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Shown (top is a vintage photograph of the library building that dates from the around the mid-50s. The image above is of Herbert Matter’s (1907–1984) History of Writing photomontage-mural for the Grosse Pointe Public Library, which was completed in 1955. This image is a clipping from a 1956 article in American Artist magazine written by Eugene M. Ettenberg. For the caption, Ettenberg summarized Matter’s project outline:

Matter’s mural, twenty-five feet long and nine feet high, for the new Grosse Pointe, Michigan Public Library designed by Marcel Breuer, portrays the history of the alphabet. Starting with the prehistoric stone scribblings, it follows the development of our letters through pictographs—cave drawings, hieroglyphs, Easter Island and Mayan markings—early communications from Crete, China, Arabia, and right up to the present-day letter form we term “Egyptian” to be seen on the locomotives and cars of the New Haven Railroad.

Detail images above are courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Public Library. Select image for a larger view.

According to library information, W. Hawkins Ferry felt it would be appropriate for the library to have art depicting the development of the written word (the idea was Matter’s concept) and commissioned Matter to do the mural. The mural, completed in 1955 for the adult reading room, is a photomontage—Matter’s preferred medium. The work displays a pattern of communication symbols and illustrates the evolution of writing from 12,000 B.C. It includes elements of Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese and the typeface of the Gutenberg Bible.

Above is a brief, hand-written correspondence from Matter to Breuer (1955) that accompanied the enclosure outlining the chronology of artifacts and elements within the mural. Apparently there were inevitable delays in completing the mural on time and in the note Matter thanks Breuer for his patience. This piece is in the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive, Syracuse University Library. [1]
  1. Matter, Herbert. Letter to Marcel Breuer: Mural for the Grosse Pointe Public Library. 1951-52 [1955]. Syracuse University, Syracuse. Web. 5 June 2012.
Below is the didactic for the mural indicating a caption for each sign, symbol, script, and letter. Note the columns of information in grid units which seems to reinforce the implied gird structure of the mural itself.

Image is courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Public Library.

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