Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, a longtime School of Visual Arts faculty member and acting chairman of the SVA Board, passed away on Friday, June 26, 2020, his 91st birthday. Glaser’s trailblazing and influential career is impossible to sum up, but highlights include creating the ubiquitous “I ♥ NY” logo, co-founding the pioneering design house Push Pin Studios and co-founding New York magazine. Here, Beth Kleber, the head archivist at the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives—the primary repository for Glaser’s vast body of work, housed at the SVA Library—discusses her choices for Glaser’s most essential works.
The hardest job in the world is choosing Milton Glaser’s essential works. Glaser worked for 70 years and his output was consistently great— imaginative, playful, always entirely responsive to the assignment at hand. He resisted being attached to any particular style but every piece conveys his thrill in transforming a concept into a work of art that makes the viewer want to look closer.
Shakespeare Signet Classics book covers, early 1960s
A landmark series of book jackets for every Shakespeare play, featuring flowing pen-and-ink and watercolor drawings that are purposely half-finished.
Jazz Odyssey: The Sound of Harlem, The Sound of Chicago and The Sound of New Orleans album covers, 1964 and 1965
Three album covers produced a year or two before Glaser's famous Bob Dylan poster (below), they feature the thin curvilinear line and flat, bright color that became Push Pin’s much-imitated calling card.
The Cook book jacket, 1965
A spooky, elongated figure for a satirical horror novel.
“Dylan” poster, 1966
The greatest-hits album that Columbia Records rushed out in the wake of Bob Dylan’s motorcycle accident in the mid-’60s featured an unmemorable photo of Dylan in profile on the cover. It also contained a prize—a poster that epitomized the Push Pin style, still among Glaser’s most popular and famous works. It synthesizes Persian miniatures, Art Nouveau and a Marcel Duchamp self-portrait into a single, stop-in-your-tracks piece.
“Big Nudes” exhibition poster, 1966
Featuring the swooping lines of his contemporaneous work, but in a muted two-color palate, the central nude figure begins to crawl off the page.
“Take a Trip to Lotus Land” poster, 1967
A “travel” poster that was inserted into an issue of the Push Pin Graphic along with equally trippy contributions from Push Pin co-founder Seymour Chwast and Push Pin member James McMullan.
First Issue of New York, 1968
Glaser co-founded New York Magazine with editor Clay Felker in 1968. A smart, politically engaged user’s guide to the city, it has since been imitated countless times. New York also spawned Ms. and New West and featured Glaser and Jerome Snyder’s influential “Underground Gourmet” food column.
“Elementary Doctor Watson” album cover, 1972
At a time when Glaser was starting to distance himself from the psychedelic style for which he and Push Pin Studios were known, he made this gentle, washed-out painting for bluegrass and folk guitarist Doc Watson. The back features his typeface Glaser Stencil.
Windows on the World restaurant design, 1976 and 1996
One of many projects with restaurateur Joe Baum, Glaser created not just graphics but also the interior design and china for many restaurants, including several inside the World Trade Center.
“I ♥ NY”/“I ♥ NY More Than Ever,” 1977/2001
Glaser’s iconic, endlessly copied “I ♥ NY” graphic was commissioned by New York State in 1977 to promote tourism at a time when it was flagging in the city and state. Glaser reclaimed the logo in 2001 with his emotional response to the 9/11 attacks, placing a black smudge on the heart in the place where the World Trade Center was geographically situated in Manhattan. The poster was produced by the School of Visual Arts and posted throughout the city by SVA students.
Grand Union supermarket chain, mid-1970s
An epic design project, encompassing interior and exterior design, wayfinding, packaging and corporate communication. Grand Union hired Glaser and his team to create an identity for the supermarket that encompassed both a gourmet-shop feel and a newly developed, low-cost generic line.
“Something Unusual Is Going on Here” poster, 1978
A personal favorite, produced to promote the record label of Glaser’s longtime client Kevin Eggers (also the founder of Poppy Records). The seriousness of the beautifully ornate wallpaper and rug, juxtaposed with the silliness of a ripe tomato comfortably seated in a chair, is perfectly surreal.
Knoll Sottsass poster, 1982
A double-sided poster promoting designer Ettore Sottsass’ Eastside and Westside lounge seating collections for Knoll. True in spirit to the Memphis design-movement founder and counterculture figure Sottsass, Glaser takes tradition and blows it apart.
Brooklyn Brewery logo, late 1980s.
Before Brooklyn became a brand, Glaser designed the Brooklyn Brewery logo, alluding to the Brooklyn Dodgers with the cursive “B.”
Angels in America logo and graphics, 1993
Wings are a recurring motif in Glaser’s work, but they were never used more powerfully than in service of Tony Kushner’s epic two-part play about the AIDS epidemic.
“Art Is Whatever” poster, 1996
Marcel Duchamp, who first got a shout-out from Glaser in the latter’s 1966 Dylan poster, is paid homage again in this poster for SVA. The poster is a mini-design lesson, complete with explanatory text from Glaser as to what he was trying to accomplish.
Beth Kleber is the founding archivist of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, opened in 2003, and the School of Visual Arts Archives, opened in 2006. She co-curated the 2013 exhibitions “Primary Sources: Documenting SVA and the New York Art World 1966 –1985” and “Milton Glaser’s SVA: A Legacy of Graphic Design”; lectures on design research; and assists students and researchers with inquiries on everything from Push Pin Studios to the SVA-related activities of the many artists who have taught at the College.