Jan Tschichold and the New Typography

Jan Tschichold: From Calligraphy to Penguin Books

Jan Tschichold was the most important typographer of the twentieth century; his career framed many of the great debates in graphic design. Trained as a calligrapher in German Gothic script, he rejected this ”nationalist” approach in favor of a style inspired by avant-garde Constructivist art. He even briefly changed his name to ”Ivan” in sympathy with Soviet art and politics. His writings helped define the New Typography, a movement that sought to make printed text and imagery dynamic, efficient, and attuned to the demands of modern life. Tschichold’s designs and theories were controversial and provoked hostility from conservative critics. Imprisoned by the Nazis in 1933, Tschichold and his family escaped to Switzerland, where he began to question the values of modernism. By 1947, when he was appointed design director of Penguin Books in London, he was advocating a return to classical design principles: orderliness, clarity, and uniformity.

In March 1947, Tschichold became design director of Penguin Books in London, the world’s largest paperback publisher. To ensure consistency across the firm’s books, one of his first tasks was to standardize the horizontal grid and color schemes that Edward Young had established in 1935: orange for fiction, green for crime, purple for biography, etc.

Designer unknown
Pelikan carbon paper packaging, after 1928
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Jan Tschichold Collection

9949Jan Tschichold (Swiss German, 1902-1974)
Buster Keaton in: ”Der General” Phoebus-Palast Poster, 1927
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jan Tschichold (Swiss German, 1902-1974)
Phoebus-Palast: Music and Film Performances by rank; program, 1927
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Johannes Molzahn (German, 1892-1965)
Dwelling and Workplace poster, 1929
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Jan Tschichold Collection

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
International Exhibition: Art of Advertising poster, Essen 1931
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Paul Schuitema (Dutch, 1897-1973)
Nutricia, le lait en poudre advertisement, 1927-28
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Jan Tschichold Collection

The New Typography was a movement based in Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic (1918-33) that sought to make printed text and imagery a dynamic expression of modern life. Proponents advocated adopting asymmetrical layouts, sanserif letterforms, and integrating photography with text in a manner that expressed a new sensibility, shaped by advertising and the mass media. Jan Tschichold, a young typographer trained in Leipzig, was the author of the landmark texts ”elementare typographie” (1925) and Die neue Typographie (1928), which did much to define the movement. Tschichold contacted many leading artist-designers throughout Europe and the Soviet Union to acquire examples of their finest designs and added them to his personal collection, most of which is now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

From the ”Jan Tschichold and the New Typography” exhibition @ Bard Graduate Center (February – July 2019)

March 02nd, 2019

The New York Earth Room

250 cubic yards of earth (197 cubic meters)
3,600 square feet of floor space (335 square meters)
22 inch depth of material (56 centimeters)
Total weight of sculpture: 280,000 lbs. (127,300 kilos)

In a loft at 141 Wooster Street, Manhattan

And a glimpse of ”The Broken Kilometer”, 1979.  Located at 393 West Broadway in New York City, is composed of 500 highly polished, round, solid brass rods, each measuring two meters in length and five centimeters (two inches) in diameter. The 500 rods are placed in five parallel rows of 100 rods each. The sculpture weighs 18 3/4 tons and would measure 3,280 feet if all the elements were laid end-to-end. 

”The New York Earth Room” and ”The Broken Kilometer” are works by Walter De Maria, both managed by Dia: Photography is not permitted, but you can find better images and notes on the Dia: website

February 17th, 2019

Tools of the Trade

In the foregroundKodak Stereo 1954 – 1959

View-Master Personal Stereo Camera (1952)

In late 1939, the View-Master was introduced at the New York World’s Fair. It was intended as an alternative to the scenic postcard, and was originally sold at photography shops, stationery stores, and scenic-attraction gift shops.

The View-Master Personal stereo camera uses 35mm film to produce 69 stereo pairs from a 36 exposure roll of film.

Rollei 16

The Rollei 16 was the Rolls Royce of 16mm still cameras. Beautifully finished, beautifully engineered, very expensive when new, and arguably the best of their kind – among the best made ”subminiature” ever. Introduced in 1966 and produced until 1972, they arrived at the end of the 16mm sub-mini camera craze that flourished after WWII.

Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera

In 1947, Polaroid introduced its first consumer camera. The Land Camera Model 95 was the first camera to use instant film to quickly produce photographs without developing them in a laboratory.

Exakta Varex VX

The Exakta Varex had an interchangeable waist or eye-level finder. Most controls, including the shutter release and the film wind lever are on the left-hand side. The film is transported in the opposite direction to other 35mm SLRs.

Zeiss Ikon Miroflex

Brownie Bull’s-Eye

The Brownie Bull’s-Eye was a Bakelite Box camera made by Kodak between 1954 & 1960, designed by Arthur H. Crapsey. The body featured an eye-level viewfinder and a large shutter-release button on the front vertical edge, in front of the winding knob.

B&H photo on 9th Avenue

Frida & I

And a lot more on display in Brooklyn Museum.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving was ongoing, a collection of her clothing, jewelry, and other personal possessions like her corsets and prosthetics (themselves works of art), which were rediscovered and inventoried in 2004 after being locked away since Kahlo’s death, in 1954. Photography was strictly prohibited and all I managed was a couple of sneak pics. But, as is always the case in a museum, a whole world of other treasures is waiting to be discovered, photographed, and shared.

Ceremonial Wine Vessel on a Wheeled Phoenix, early 18th century
China, Qing dynasty

Head of Wesirwer, Priest of Montu
Green schist
Late Period, Dynasty XXX, ca 380-342 B.C.

Figure of a Recumbent Jackal (God Anubis)
Late Period-Ptolemaic Period, ca. 664-30 B.C.E.
From Saqqara

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Ran Hwang (South Korean, b. 1960)
East Wind, 2012
Plastic and metal buttons and beads, metal pins, wood panel

Kwang Young Chun
Born Hongchun, South Korea, 1944
Aggregation 18-JA006 (Star 1), 2018
Mixed media with Korean mulberry paper

Kwang Young Chun
Born Hongchun, South Korea, 1944
Aggregations (detail)

Kwang Young Chun
Born Hongchun, South Korea, 1944

Kwang Young Chun
Born Hongchun, South Korea, 1944

Kwang Young Chun
Born Hongchun, South Korea, 1944
Aggregation 15-AU043, 2015
Mixed media with Korean mulberry paper

Philip Pearlstein, b. 1924
Portrait of Linda Nochlin and Richard Pommer, 1968
Oil on canvas

Joan Semmel, b. 1932
Intimacy-Autonomy, 1974
Oil on canvas

Brookyn Museum

February 16th, 2019