Art Newspaper reported today on one of the largest and most notable recent gifts to SVA’s Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives: more than 700 pieces of original art by legendary designer and longtime faculty member Ivan Chermayeff, who passed away in 2017. Chermayeff’s daughters, Catherine, Maro and Sasha, and his son, Sam, made the donation, choosing a variety of professional and personal work from a vast archive—whether at work or home, Chermayeff was a prolific, instinctive image-maker. The resulting Ivan Chermayeff Collection—consisting largely of personal work, made independently—will exist separately from the Chermayeff and Geismar Collection, which comprises Chermayeff’s professional efforts with his longtime collaborator (and fellow BFA Design faculty member) Tom Geismar.
“The Ivan Chermayeff Collection includes the finest examples of Chermayeff’s work, both commercial and personal,” Beth Kleber, head of archives at the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, told Art Newspaper. “His remarkable collages and other original works represent a sort of process-driven visual diary, a window into his creative mind.”
Earlier this year, Maro Chermayeff, founder and chair of MFA Social Documentary Film at SVA, spoke with SVA’s magazine, Visual Arts Journal, about a few pieces in the collection, and about her father’s creative process and idiosyncrasies.
Ivan Chermayeff, American Artists, 1970, lithograph.
“[Ivan made] a whole series of calligraphic works—he would write out the names of actors he liked or, like here, lists of artists from different countries. At a certain point, he stopped making them. These don’t go much beyond the ’70s.
“He created his own style of calligraphy. It was deliberately illegible—you weren’t really supposed to read it, it was more about how it looked. People would ask my father to write out invitations and things like that for them, and then complain that they couldn’t read them.”
Ivan Chermayeff, Untitled, undated, collage.
“My father made many children’s books about animals, in partnership with my sister Catherine—Furry Facts, Scaly Facts, Feathery Facts—but he especially loved making pictures of elephants. I think it was because they were so prehistoric, but so sweet-natured and kind. For years, he did the posters and identity work for the Big Apple Circus. We went to every single season of it as children.”
Ivan Chermayeff, Eric Standing, 1999, mixed media collage with glove.
“My father had a whole studio that was just scraps—he had drawers full of foils from the tops of wine bottles—and one of his favorite things to collect and make art with were gloves that were run over by cars. He loved the effect of how they got squished. But they couldn’t be any kind of glove, they had to be leather, and they were usually worker’s gloves. To him, for some reason, they looked like people.
“He collected them for decades. Looking for gloves was a childhood job. We’d give them to him for Christmas. Once, he found a run-over glove that was giving the finger. He was so excited!”
Ivan Chermayeff, Young Girl in Costume, 2001, collage, marker and acrylic on paper; collage incorporates a 1963 drawing by Catherine Chermayeff.
“Dad made collages that use bills from hotels or restaurants, letters from friends, rocks or shells from the beach, anything.
“He believed that children were the best artists, and would say his own art was not as good as the pure art of a child. All of my and my siblings’ art hung on the walls, and it had pride of place. It would be over the couch, not hidden away somewhere.
“In everything, he treated his children as his best friends, and we were his best friends. It was a gift to feel so respected and acknowledged. Everything we had to say, every opinion we had, he treated as expert advice, and the conversation was never-ending.”
See below for more work from the Ivan Chermayeff Collection. For more information on the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, visit archives.sva.edu.
Renowned designer and SVA faculty member Ivan Chermayeff is remembered in this SVA Subway Series Hall of Fame video.