To Inform and Delight
The Collection of Milton Glaser
For over sixty years, Milton Glaser, one of America’s foremost and influential graphic designers, has made it his business to look at the world closely. From this devotional act of looking has sprung a distinctly American vernacular of design — one that is both reverent of and transgressive toward the historical, celebrates pastiche and intuition over immediate coherence, and is as proudly intellectual as it is raffish. The present collection of over two hundred works, from Glaser's own personal collection, is a visual testament to his limitless range, compassionate curiosity and belief that the field of design is a “philosophical inquiry into the nature of truth, beauty, and reality”.
Glaser considers his career as a graphic designer a “preordained condition”. In 1954, at just twenty-five-years-old, Glaser, along with Seymour Chwast, Reynold Ruffins and Edward Sorel founded Push Pin Studios — a graphic design firm that Glaser said was run “like a bunch of art students trying to change history”. Through their eclectic, boisterous approach to designing album covers, posters, publications and logos, Push Pin inspired a seismic shift away from the exacting and severe “Swiss Precisionism” that had swayed graphic design since the 1930s. The studio was regarded as a beacon for the new modern era of graphic design, so much so that in 1970 they were the first American studio to have an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Several early works by Glaser from this era are featured in the auction, including works for the studio’s equally influential monthly magazine, Push Pin Graphic.
That duration between seeing and understanding is always what you play with in communicating ideas.
In 1974, Glaser left Push Pin to establish his own studio; in 1977, he would design what is possibly the most recognizable and imitated graphic in the world — the I ♥ NY logo, expressing, in no uncertain terms, his love for the city. Even though he is most known for the sublime simplicity of I ♥ NY, Glaser’s wide scope of work embraces ambiguity, a joyful “lack of coherence” (as he calls it) and, above all, the assertion that art is work. Glaser has designed over 400 posters, identities for cultural institutions, newspapers, restaurants and grocery stores, he co-founded New York magazine in 1968, and has taught at the lauded School of Visual Arts for over fifty years. But at the center of all this work, this copious outpouring of visual forms, riddles and jubilations, is Glaser’s insistence that design is a fundamentally humanistic act that should do no harm, and express “the commonality and continuity of all human experience”. Glaser personally selected this collection to reflect and celebrate his momentous career on the occasion of his 91st birthday.
The deepest role of art is creating an alternative reality, something the world needs desperately at this time. Art is the most benign and fundamental way of creating community that our species has discovered. Mozart and Matisse — children of Eros — make us more human and more generous to one another.
Milton Glaser 1929–2020
Milton Glaser was born in 1929 to Hungarian Jewish émigrés living in the South Bronx. From a young age, he sketched and recalls that his “earliest commissions were in grade school, where [he] drew naked women for older boys for a penny a piece”. At twelve-years-old, he began taking formal drawing lessons with the Russian American social realist painter Moses Soyer. Glaser was exposed to social consciousness (an ethos that would come to shape his practice as a designer) from a young age, growing up in communist-leaning cooperative housing in the Bronx and steeped in a progressive, Jewish “attitude toward life, food, music, and intellectual pursuit”.