Illustrator Seymour Chwast is graphic designer Paula Scher’s greatest influence, and also happens to be her husband. With a shared sensibility and approach to design, their work has transformed the fields in which they practice. Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers opening December 2 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrates the achievements of this remarkably creative couple, whose illustrations and designs will be shown together for the first time.
The exhibition in the Collab Gallery of the Museum’s Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building will include more than 300 images, selected and installed by Chwast (b.1931) and Scher (b. 1948). On Saturday, December 1, they will be honored with the Design Excellence Award given by Collab, the group of design professionals and enthusiasts that supports the modern and contemporary design collection at the Museum.
“Thanks to the efforts and generosity of Collab, we are the only Museum in the country to regularly devote our galleries to exhibitions about contemporary designers,” notes Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700. “It is an extraordinary opportunity to be able to view Scher and Chwast’s work, side by side, in a museum setting. Seen in concert, their iconic images, social commentary, and commercial relevance speak to graphic design’s ability to transcend the medium’s perceived boundaries.”
Both Chwast and Scher understand graphics as expression, very often comic expression, and are drawn to eclectic influences and conceptual methods. Double Portrait explores the artists’ commonalities and differences in works ranging from record albums, books, magazine covers, and illustrations to posters, typefaces, trademarks, identities, and environmental graphics shown in videos and in the gallery.
The exhibition will demonstrate how Chwast’s vision was, and remains, deeply personal, inspired by sources as diverse as German Expressionist woodcuts, Victorian typography, children’s art, primitive art, folk art, and comic books. On view will be one of Chwast’s most iconic and still provocative works of the 1960s, his anti-war poster “End Bad Breath” (1968), designed in protest of the U.S. bombing of Hanoi. Both cartoon and illustration, the poster features Uncle Sam centered like the sun against a background of thick rays, his hugely open mouth filled with bombs and bombers. In his poster “War is Good Business: Invest Your Son” (1967), Chwast used a collage style of Victorian wood-block typography, photography, and bright color to create a dense, visually busy surface that activates his ironic text message.
Scher is best known for her innovative reimagining of typography as a communicative medium, her work divided largely between the fields of graphic identity and environmental graphics. Her identity program and posters for New York’s Public Theater (from 1994), will be featured in Double Portrait, including the graphic language designed for The Public Theater which reflects street typography with unconventional placements and uses of different sizes, weights, and styles of type. Her poster for the theater’s production of “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” (1995) sets the play’s title and theater logos around the silhouetted image of the tap artist in different visual rhythms which convey the sound of the performance. Scher’s environmental graphics for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Lucent Technologies Center for Arts Education (2001), utilizes super graphics to redraw the exterior of the sixty-year old school building in typography with painted words loudly announcing the school’s program as “Theater, Music, Dance.”
This exhibition is made possible by Lisa S. Roberts and David W. Seltzer. Additional support is provided by Collab, a group that supports the Museum’s modern and contemporary design collection and programs. In-kind support is provided courtesy of Alcorn McBride Inc.