I used to see him at the School of Visual Arts, where he was teaching graphic design for decades. We met in 2008, when I invited him to participated in the program Dialogues with Design Legends, which I curated at the 92nd Street Y. I asked him to select a speaker that represents the new generation of graphic design, and he instantly chose Stephen Doyle, who creates graphic design without boundaries. The conversation focused on crafting vocabularies out of instincts, while always remaining authentic and genuine. Milton Glaser was the most humble celebrity I have ever met.
Born in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Hungary, Glaser graduated from the Cooper Union. At 33, he created his first icon, a poster of Bob Dylan, commissioned by CBS Records. The poster, considered a landmark in graphic design, found today in the collection of MoMA, came to generate publicity for the singer-songwriter who had suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident, and was rumored to be dead. The design was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's famed self-portrait, showing Dylan in profile with his curly hair rendered in colors. Six millions of Dylan's posters made their ways into homes across the globe. History was present in much of his work, including his 1968 ad for Olivetti's Valentine typewriter, based on a Renaissance painting by Piero de Cosimo, depicting a mourning dog.
In 1977, Glaser got the commission which changed his life and brought him an enormous international recognition, a project which made him synonymous with New York City and its visual culture. It was after the economic crisis of 1975 and New York State initiated a new campaign for tourism. Glaser was selected to create a new logo, pro bono, and he did what he came to consider as the most successful thing of his career. The most recognizable graphic in the world, his logo I ♥ N Y came to change the perception of New York in the 70s. The sequel logo, which he designed after 9/11 was no less powerful: I ♥ NY More than Ever, a small poster that was distributed all over New York by students from the School of Visual Arts, with the line 'your city needs you,' brought New Yorkers into tears, cementing their love for their city. The two logos, came after two of the most substantial crises in New York history, made New Yorkers look differently at what it means to be a New Yorker.
The list of his achievements is too long for the scope of this post. In 1968, he co-founded New York Magazine (to which he lost control when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch); created endless posters for concerts, museum shows, art events, political movements; designed the typeface Glaser Stencil; won awards, including the National Design Award Lifetime Achievement from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in 2004. On July 14th, Rago/Wright will offer the personal collection of Milton Glaser, which includes original drawings and collages, prints and posters selected by Glaser in reflecting his career, a rare chance to take home a piece of the life of this giant. Today, let's remember this extraordinary man, a New York icon.
Above: Milton Glaser, 'Black Nude,' 1976, from the collection of Milton Glaser at Rago/Wright.