Pornography Without Sex

Tonight begins two panels at the Great Hall of The Cooper Union on the influence of Herb Lubalin as art director, typographer, and stylist on graphic design of the sixties and afterward. Everyone who knew Lubalin’s work can refer to a favorite piece or pieces that may have influenced their practice. I have many such, but the most fascinating is the contribution Lubalin made to Eros. This decidedly small-circulation hardcover magazine, which published only four issues during 1962, was branded as pornography and its publisher, Ralph Ginzburg, was convicted and went to prison in 1963 for violating federal obscenity laws. If you look at issues today, however, you’ll find nothing—absolutely nothing—that would be deemed offensive by current standards. In fact, HBO broadcasts more hardcore sex in one minute of Boardwalk Empire, for instance, than is shown in all four issues of Eros. But it was published at a time when mere nudity was considered pornographic.

Ginsburg, who died in 2006, was always quick to argue the merits of erotica, and in each issue of Eros, art throughout the ages, by major painters and sculptors, addressed the extent to which the erotic was a theme. In issue #3, the one here with Marilyn Monroe gorgeously photographed by Bert Stern (her last photo session), a feature on the art of brothels includes everyone from Pieter Bruegel the Elder to Pablo Picasso. As you can see from the images shown, Lubalin’s type was the hottest thing in the magazine. Even “Sexercise” features the model with clothes on. Yes, the French postcards were designed to tickle the libido, but today they are considered art.

I recall, when I was the co-publisher of the The New York Review of Sex, having to show all the vintage painting and engravings of “erotic” art to the lawyers who said, “even 300-year-old art might get you arrested.” Lo and behold, he was right. Silly today but sad yesterday. At least today there is nothing to get hung up about, and we can simply enjoy Eros for Lubalin’s great design (and Milton Glaser’s sex-starved porcupine—below).

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For more Steven Heller, check out The Education of a Graphic Designer—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I have a copy of EROS (V1, #2, Summer 1962), picked up from God-knows-where and kept for decades, that is proving to be useful in a humor magazine I’m designing. (Just when I think I can start throwing things out…)
    The design is awesome, in a Esquire/Twen kind of way. One of the back-of-the-book features is a bunch of subscription cards, with the replies written on them:
    “You filthy, lousy sex-maniac bastards leave me alone or I’ll have you prosecuted.”
    “RALPH GINZBURG IS A THUMB SUCKER.” << love this
    “Since you seem to believe so strongly in free speech, you won’t mind if I tell you to take this worthless sh*t and jam it up your *ss!” [original is uncensored, but I didn't want the comment to get blocked]
    “REPENT”
    “Sorry–you are 35 years too late”
    “Please send me a free copy. I am very poor and very horny.”
    “I think it highly improbable that you will sell any subscriptions at this address. [letterhead: St. Thomas Seminary, Bloomfield, CT]”
    “I am returning your bill for a Charter Subscription…I am afraid some misguided juvenile wag has taken advantage of my position as Chairman of the “Greater Ypsilanti League for Decent Literature” to play a joke on me. Sincerely, Rev. Farnsworthe E. Fletcher III.”
     
    Yes, the world has changed a lot in 50 years. For one thing, exceedingly few people are named “Farnsworthe.” And those that are, play linebacker in the NFL. :-)