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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.

#DailyHeller #Eros #HerbLubalin #StevenHeller

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