Mid-Century Modernism on Display

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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The folks at Kind Company, Greg D’Onofrio and Patricia Belen, instigators and designers of the Alvin Lustig archive website, have also conceived a site designed to make the design connoisseur ecstatic with delight. It is an online museum/gallery and retail store devoted to the rarity of mid-Century Modernism (like the work of Studio Boggeri and Geigy, etc.). Each piece, many fairly unknown, is extremely necessary in understanding the legacy of graphic design. If only I had disposable income. I have, however, cornered the pair long enough to ask them how this site, DISPLAY, and their other history-centric sites have developed.

The two of you single-handedly created a website about Alvin Lustig, what was the impetus?

When we started the project more than five years ago, Alvin Lustig was a little known, yet hugely important design pioneer who needed to be introduced (or re-introduced) to the emerging online design community. We figured the best way to educate ourselves and others was to develop a website cataloging his work. The website would not have been possible without your many articles and Elaine Lustig Cohen’s generous support. In addition, your recent Lustig monograph, Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig helps tie the works together and brings a new cohesion to the site. We’re currently working on a much deserved “refresh” to add new content and bring it up to web standards.

DISPLAY is quite a different site. What prompted you to create an entrepreneurial design website?

Since the Lustig site, we’ve been assiduously collecting modern graphic design – books, periodicals, advertisements and ephemera. DISPLAY (http://www.thisisdisplay.org) started out as a way for us to organize our collection and gain valuable insight into mid 20th century graphic design, typography and some of its pioneers. DISPLAY has a similar initiative to the Lustig site which is to catalog a collection online made up of important building blocks of graphic design’s historical record – many of which are unfamiliar, overlooked and not part of the “official” graphic design canon (at least not yet). We try to maintain a high level of curatorial excellence, not only introducing lesser–known works and designers, but also writing and researching about the items to share our point-of-view. The bookstore hopefully encourages others with the same interest and passion to own these important items. DISPLAY is our platform to share our collection with others – a small contribution to the design community.

Where do you get the stock that you sell on the site?

The DISPLAY bookstore sells duplicates of items in our own collection – mostly hard-to-find graphic design books, periodicals and ephemera from Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and the United States (c. 1930–1970). We take great care in acquiring our stock which comes from a variety of sources including the ones you’d expect: booksellers, flea markets and yes, eBay. We’ve also been very fortunate to acquire items from other designers and collectors who may have a similar sensibility. Sourcing the right items is never easy and requires perseverance, patience and, above all, an “eye” to curate a worthwhile inventory/collection. More than just booksellers, we advocate books as valuable tools to design practice, education and research.

What are the most popular items?

The site has done a fine job of spreading the work of lesser-known designers or the lesser-known work of well-known designers. A large part of our collection concentrates on some of the work taking place in Milan, Italy during the post-war years (1945–1969) when many designers were converging to take advantage of opportunities in the corporate sector. DISPLAY visitors are attracted to this “Italian Style” of design exemplified by pioneers such as Pirelli, Lora Lamm, Franco Grignani, Bob Noorda, Stile Industria and Studio Boggeri to name a few. Many of our items are little known and rarely recognized in graphic design history books.

Items responsible for disseminating Swiss functional design ideas and philosophies referred to as the “International Typographic Style” is also highly sought after on DISPLAY. Neue Grafik/New Graphic Design/Graphisme Actuel (1958–1965), Karl Gerstner’s die neue Graphik/the new graphic art/le nouvel art graphique (Niggli, 1959), and Hans Neuburg’s Graphic Design in Swiss Industry/Schweizer Industrie Grafik/Graphisme industriel en Suisse (ABE Verlag, 1965) are all important, historically significant items that belong in any design collection.

What do you hope to achieve from the site?

For us, one of the primary responsibilities of owning a collection is conducting research about the objects we acquire and finding out how they can far exceed their role as inspirational “eye candy”. The combination of collecting / organizing / cataloging has helped us see new, unique perspectives and discover a greater understanding of many of the principles, ideas and theories we so often admire.

Hopefully, as more people become familiar with these works, it will educate, inspire and motivate others to seek out and research their own interests (and more will be written about them and entered into the graphic design canon). Ultimately, we look forward to this project becoming a stepping stone for us to author and self-publish our own materials.