The Daily Heller: Glaser on Cooper Square

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Remembering Milton Glaser, Class of 1951” is the (socially distanced) exhibition currently on view in the colonnade windows of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art’s landmark Foundation Building. A 1951 Cooper graduate and a Bronx native, Glaser had an outsized influence on the graphic identity of New York City through every kind of visual endeavor. The exhibition is presented by The Cooper Union’s School of Art and will be on view through Jan. 15, on the Foundation Building’s Fourth Avenue side. I asked organizer Mike Essl, Dean of the School of Art at Cooper Union, to discuss the impact of Glaser's work on art and design students (at least those who remain in New York) and perhaps more importantly, the average resident and passerby in the East Village neighborhood that Glaser dearly loved and where he lived (on St. Marks Place) for such a long time when he was younger.

(Milton frequently lectured at the school and I had the pleasure of chatting with him on stage at Cooper Union's historic Great Hall, including this event.)

What did Glaser signify to The Cooper Union?

Milton Glaser is a legend! When I was in junior high, my library only had one book on design, and it was Milton Glaser: Graphic Design. Discovering his book inspired me and countless others to pursue graphic design. I applied to Cooper Union because I knew THE Milton Glaser studied there. As my professor at Cooper Union, he showed me the power that graphic design has to tell the truth and to help people. I continue to pass down his lessons to my students. Many years after I graduated, I invited Glaser to speak at a free AIGA/NY student conference. We spoke about what it meant for him to attend Cooper Union and about how the gift of free tuition changed him. Our founder, Peter Cooper, believed that Cooper Union would inspire the citizens of New York City to see “truth in all its native power and beauty, and … to spread its transforming influence throughout the world.” When I read these words now, I can’t help but remember Milton Glaser: his work, his mentorship and his generosity towards the people of our city. The window display is ingenious in this time of isolation. How extensive is the exhibition?

Remembering Milton Glaser is a career retrospective focused on his work for NYC. We’re featuring 25 of his design pieces, including the iconic "I ️[heart] NY" logo, the founding of New York magazine, posters for Lincoln Center, and my favorite, a cat-themed poster promoting the Catskills. The exhibition fills the colonnade windows on the West side of our Foundation Building. We’ve always used this space for our Typographics conference, public exhibitions, and School of Art student shows, but during the pandemic it has taken on a new life. Is there a particular innovative aspect of how the display has been designed to adhere to social distancing?

To have a public-facing exhibition space at all during this time feels innovative. By using the full windows of the colonnade, we were able to feature What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot, an exhibition that we were not able to show in our galleries due to the pandemic. Despite the barrier of external viewing, adhering the work directly to the glass allows the viewer to get up close and personal with the work. We’ve also added a QR code to allow access to all the credits on your phone.

It is visible to the community at large. What do you want this audience of non-designers to take away from this?

We want the audience to celebrate Glaser’s work and his many contributions to New York. We also hope to show that his work is literally part of the fabric of the city. Non-designers in NYC may have no idea that they see his work on a daily, if not hourly, basis while walking in NYC. For example, just a few steps from the exhibition you can see Glaser’s Untitled, 1986 in the Astor Place subway station.

Do you plan more such exhibits?

Yes, we are planning an exhibit on the work of photographer and Cooper Union professor Margaret Morton, who also passed away this summer. Information about upcoming shows can be found here.