Author Archive

Recession Aesthetics

June 20, 2009

DishSoapCompositeThanks to the tanking world economy, this year I suddenly found myself confronted by a perfect storm right in my very own kitchen: I needed to obtain the vast quantities of calories required by a ravenous teenager and his younger brother without having to declare bankruptcy. The blissful era of strolling around the local food co-op with a petite handheld basket containing a single grass-fed steak at $26 and a recycled-paperboard pint of $5.99 organic raspberries was over. And so it came to pass that in January I bravely pushed a doublewide chrome shopping cart into the land of excess that is Costco. I quickly realized that shopping there isn’t just about food, the experience is an education in the subtleties of how the graphic design of brands sells products to their intended audiences.



Separated at Birth?

May 18, 2009

Jerry Lewis (left) made an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday to announce his role in the coming film “Max Rose.” In other news, a retrospective of painter Francis Bacon’s work will be opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 20. Does his canvas Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, (detail, right) remind you of anyone? I thought so. But what does it mean?

Lewis photo copyright Joel Ryan/Associated Press via New York Times.


May 11, 2009

I attended BKLYNDesigns this past weekend, a show of design homegrown in our very own borough of Kings, with every expectation of seeing amazing new ideas and products. What did I find? Lots of eager but forgettable projects proudly advertising their sustainability, the buzzword of unimaginative designers who should just assume that sustainability is now a given and find something else to talk about, and a ton of wallpaper. The wallpapers, especially the selections from Grow House Grow (shown, Captain Smith) were very cool for the most part, but I dunno how long I’d be interested in living with a sea of giant squid and jellyfish. They work better as art. Maybe that’s the point?

Album Art: Life in Digital Tinyland

May 4, 2009

It’s 1975 and my thirteen year old peer group has just had an earth-shattering realization. After staring at the elaborately illustrated cover of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy for most of an afternoon, pondering the question: could Elton John be gay? (news flash!) we decided en masse: of course he was! He was gay WITH Bernie Taupin! Obviously he couldn’t simply be gay on his own, and we felt very sophisticated for figuring all of this out just from studying the artwork. Worshiping the record jacket was a crucial part of the experience of listening to LPs. Album covers and liner note designs contained rich fields of information to be harvested, inviting listeners to spend hours happily searching the images to decode their meaning. Today, the visualization of music has dwindled to the size of a tiny icon in the era of the downloadable MP3. As the artwork’s dimensions shrank, becoming more like a postage stamp than a poster, its role and importance faded. Let’s face it: does anyone download songs today because they fall in love with the 240-square pixel cover on a computer screen? Very doubtful.


Around Again

March 25, 2009


Rodney Allen Trice creates witty items for the home from discarded objects he finds at the curb and in dumpsters. Trice doesn’t see what he does as recycling, preferring to use the term refitting instead. His Brooklyn studio resembles a parking lot for things awaiting their next chance at a new life.


Stuff Comes in Waves

March 24, 2009


I love the combination of traditional style and contemporary commentary in this painting by Manabu Ikeda. For more on the topic, check out the work of Masami Teraoka too.


Sound On

March 22, 2009

More often than I’d like to admit, I buy stuff more because of how it looks than how well it works. I can’t help it, though I know the functionality should be part and parcel of the appearance of any well-designed thing. (Remind me to tell you sometime about my gorgeous sofa that dresses up the living room and is a heinous mockery of sitting in comfort.) But here we’re talking about headphones.


Vapid Revenge

March 21, 2009


Bookmark this under mindless ways to waste time on the internet:, an arsenal of virtual weapons to unleash upon your least favorite website.


Fully Baked

March 19, 2009


Letters proud enough to stand tall and cast a shadow of their own bring as much drama to the printed page as they do to the 3-D world. Yesterday our D-Crit class was treated to a walking tour of found street typography, led by Paul Shaw. We were en route to the Humanities Branch of the New York Public Library to learn research methods needed to delve deep into the treasures of the stacks.

This fabulous dimensional building number sign at left (I believe it was on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) directly relates to these two ads I found at the library in a 1935 issue of Baker’s Helper, a magazine for the baking profession. (Whatelse?)

Reminiscent of the title sequences to black and white MGM movies, the typography delivers a much-appreciated dash of old Hollywood glamour to the humble world of pies and a mundane Manhattan block.

Plastic Palm Trees in Paradise

March 18, 2009


David Graham documents America as a place where the intersection of cultural and actual landscape leads to moments of strange beauty. His cheerful supersaturated color photographs, graced by a bemused appreciation of his native land, capture a vivid jumble of roadside attractions and manmade structures locked in unexpected tension with their environment. Almost Paradise, his newest book with a foreword by noted writer Jack Hitt, ventures into dark territory with images of post-Katrina New Orleans sequenced together with objects in a wax museum and sunny days in no-man’s land. Graham’s postindustrial scenes devoid of the humans who created them will haunt your subconscious in the best possible way.