This is Display
I posted a few weeks ago about the Greenwich Village Book Fair. It turned out to be an interesting and rewarding event. In addition to selling a half dozen or so rare and relatively valuable vintage design books, I found a few choice items—including a copy of a 1964 Jacques Villon exhibition catalog inscribed by Marcel Duchamp, Villon’s younger brother (the dealer failed to notice this)—and met a few graphic designers, museum curators, and design educators. One of the graphic designers was Greg D’Onofrio, a partner at Kind Company, a small Brooklyn-based firm that designs websites, printed materials, and identities. Kind Company designed the informational website for design giant Alvin Lustig, a site I’ve been familiar with for years. Greg also purchased from me a run of 16 issues of Stile Industria, a hard-to-find and brilliantly edited and produced Italian publication from the 1950’s that showcases industrial and graphic design. That got us talking about graphic design and typography in general, and about Greg’s pet project, the website Display at thisisdisplay.org.
According to its own mission statement, Display is a curated collection of important graphic design books, periodicals, advertisements, and ephemera. The emphasis here is on curated—Display is tightly edited and, befitting its material, visually clean and coherent. The subject matter is modern, mid-20th-century graphic design history and its pioneers. Greg and his partner, Patricia Belen, intend to build a digital graphic collection from original materials to inspire and educate.
The heart of the website is the Collection section, though there is also a Bookstore (more titles, please…) and a Features section. At 116 items and growing, the collection contains images (including useful close-ups) and curatorial information about a host of important and influential modernist graphic designers from the USA, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Italy. Pioneers of modern graphic design and typography such as Max Huber, Lester Beall, Yves Jose Zimmerman, Paul Rand, and Xanti Schawinsky are featured.
What is evident in conversation and in looking at the site is that Greg’s chief affinities lie with German, Swiss, and Italian designers. The Ulm School presents itself as one anchor, Milan the other. The opposition of rationalist precepts and Mediterranean expressiveness sets up a creative dynamic that flowered in the hothouse of 1950’s Milan—Greg notes in one of the features that Swiss designers such as Lora Lamm, Carlo Vivarelli, and Walter Ballmer migrated to Italy to work with Antonio Boggeri in the progressive environment sponsored by corporations such as Pirelli, Olivetti, and La Rinascenti. A chief purpose of Display is to redress this under-appreciated aspect of the modernist graphic design narrative. I’m guessing my (former) copies of Stile Industria will help with this…
In a way, Display is doing for lesser-known European graphic designers what I’ve tried doing in this blog for lesser-known American designers and architects. The Features section contains articles about Bob Noorda, the Dutch designer who moved to Milan and later worked with Massimo Vignelli, and Lora Lamm, the Swiss-born designer mentioned above. Started last year, Display promises to be an informative and visually exciting resource. If your interests run to modernism and graphic design, keep an eye on this site.
Images from top: Pirelli scooter ad by Lora Lamm in 1959; Cinturato Pirelli ad by Bob Noorda in 1960; TM by Yves Jose Zimmerman in 1958; Pubblicita in Italia by Franco Grignani in 1967; Ulm 12/13 by Tomas Gonda Design in 1965; Ladislav Sutnar in 1947; Graphic Design 1 by Ikko Tanaka in 1959.