On May 23, 2011, the New York Public Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of its landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. To mark the occasion, Pentagram was commissioned to create Celebrating 100 Years, the library’s centennial exhibition, a presentation of 250 artifacts that highlight the collections and history of this remarkable institution.
The exhibition was mounted in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall, one of the library’s most beautiful rooms and its main exhibition space. To showcase the diversity of the library’s collections, the exhibition was organized into four sections: Observation, for artifacts that document the natural world; Contemplation, items that demonstrate a search for meaning through reflection or spirituality; Creativity, items from the library’s collections on the arts; and Society, materials documenting political and social history. These sections were announced with illuminated archways that highlighted the architecture of Gottesman Hall, showcasing it as another of the library’s great treasures.
The sections flowed into each other, allowing visitors to explore and make their own connections. Among the artifacts on display were Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten version of the Declaration of Independence; George Washington’s final draft of his farewell address; Charles Dickens’ letter opener, made from the paw of his beloved cat, Bob; Virginia Woolf’s walking stick; Malcolm X’s journal and briefcase; and Jack Kerouac’s notebooks and personal effects.
The room’s central space displayed several artifacts that demonstrate changes in the way information has been recorded and shared over time, including Sumerian cuneiform tablets, a Gutenberg Bible, and in a large projection, selections from the library’s Digital Gallery. This projection featured more than 800 images, arranged in thematic groupings that included images of New York City, maps, book jackets, faces, and Ancient Egypt, a tribute to the modern library’s roots in Alexandria. Pentagram created a fluid animation that placed the images in a grid-like formation inspired by library shelves.
In the adjacent Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery, the exhibition looked at the library’s origins, history, and cultural impact. A glass bookcase displayed 100 books researched or written at the library. The Pentagram team created an iPad app that allowed visitors to explore these books and browse hundreds of thousands of images in the library’s Digital Gallery.
Pentagram also created a bold graphic identity for the exhibition, which formed the number “100” from objects in the library’s collection. The graphics were featured on banners on the library’s iconic façade and displays in the lobby.
“This exhibition makes creative use of the library's collections to celebrate its centennial anniversary and to remark on the institution's central role in the act of history-making, collecting, and sharing the documents of American and international history.”
"How do you make a century-old, stuffy, symmetrical, old-world space young, fun, interesting, and beautiful? Give it to the team that made this amazing integration of old and new and watch as thousands stream through in awe."
“They could have started with the illuminated arches and then built the building around them. How dare the designer. Thank you!”
Michael Gericke (art director/ designer); Don Bilodeau, Jed Skillins, Matt McInerney (designers); Gillian DeSousa, (project manager)
Thomas Mellins (curator)
Spaeth Design (primary fabricator), P.E. Black Studios (silk screen graphics)