Michael Bierut, Master Series Exhibit at SVA Gallery

HOW TO fit 35 years worth of award-winning, laugh-making, product-selling, world-changing graphic design into 4,000 square feet? That was the latest design challenge for Pentagram partner Michael Bierut,whose work is the focus of a retrospective at the School of Visual Arts (New York) through November 7.

The exhibit honors the Pentagram partner, graphic designer, and educator for a body of work that includes some of the world’s best-known graphic identities, environmental graphics, books, and more. The in-depth survey is the 27th in SVA’s annual Master Series honoring great visual communicators.

More than 300 of Michael Bierut’s friends, clients, and colleagues attended the opening reception earlier this month, when he was presented with The Masters Series Award by SVA President David Rhodes.

The 4,000-sq.-ft. exhibition, presented in four rooms at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, features his identity systems, environmental graphics, books, and more, from signage programs for the New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Times Buildingto his posters for the Yale School of Architecture, to his symbols for MIT Media Lab,Saks Fifth Avenue, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It also shares personal works from his own collection, including more than 100 of the sketchbooks he uses to brainstorm his ideas.

The show coincides with the publication of Bierut’s first monograph, How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world (Thames & Hudson and Harper Design), and the look and feel of the book was carried through to the exhibition.

Bierut asked fellow Pentagram partner Abbott Millerto help design the show. Located in New York’s landmark Starett-Lehigh Building, the SVA Chelsea Gallery is comprised of four large rooms, which Bierut had plenty of work to fill. Bierut and Miller organized the exhibition around four themes, each of which holds special interest for Bierut: design and the city, the design process, how architecture can be represented on paper, and the search for graphic identity.

Titled “How to design for the toughest audience in the world,” the first gallery focuses on Bierut’s work in, around and for New York City—a constant source of challenge and inspiration. The room opens with a 1:1 scale model of a section of the sign he designed for the façade of the New York Times Building. Examples from his systems for New York’s parking signs, the WalkNYC pedestrian wayfinding, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine,and Governors Island are on view, along with his iconic identity and packaging for Saks Fifth Avenue.

The second gallery, which explores “How to think with your hands,” features more than 100 of the inexpensive composition notebooks Bierut uses to sketch and refine his ideas. Scattered among the minutes of meetings, records of phone conversations, and lists of phone numbers are sketches that document his thinking about design problems.

The third gallery features Michael Bierut’s many collaborations with architects, including 84 posters from his ongoing series for the Yale University School of Architecture. The final gallery explores graphic identity through more than 60 logos, word marks, and symbols designed by Michael Bierut, as well as branded products, packaging, and videos in which Bierut shares his thoughts on branding.


Location: New York
Open Date: October 6 through November 7, 2015
Design: Pentagram
Design Team: Michael Bierut (art director, designer); Abbott Miller (consulting partner); Hamish Smyth, Britt Cobb, Jesse Reed, Aron Fay, Angie Foster (designers); Tamara McKenna (project coordinator); Claire Banks, Claudia Mandlik (archivists)
Fabrication: Shaun Killman (New York Times Building façade model)
Photos: Bilyana Dimitrova, Federico Rodriguez Caldentey (as noted)

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