Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Milton Glaser Still Hearts New York

Milton Glaser still loves New York, but these days, he said, it sometimes worries him. Mr. Glaser, 87, created one of the most potent designs of the last century: I ♥ NY, a rallying symbol for New York when the city and state were in crisis in 1977. On a recent afternoon, he puzzled over what design he would create for the New York of 2016.

This city, he said, is in a different crisis, brought on by its own success.

“That’s an enormous problem,” he said, seated in the canary-colored conference room of his design studio on East 32nd Street, where he has worked since 1965. Childish shrieks from the schoolyard next door rippled through the office. Scattered around the room were some of his recent designs, including bottles of Trump Vodka and a poster proclaiming, “To Vote Is to Exist.”

“You can’t have this much development, and the consequential eviction of hundreds of thousands of people who will have no place to live,” Mr. Glaser said. “There’s some fundamental misjudgment about the balance between ordinary people and people who make enormous amounts of money. The idea of apartments for $50 million. What? On what basis?”

If he were to design a successor to the I ♥ NY logo today, he said, “What you would want is more of a sense of fairness in the city, whatever that means.”

“I can’t be glib about this,” he continued, “because the problem is too enormous and difficult to deal with.”

New York is, famously, a town of transience, with newcomers arriving constantly, either making their mark or coming a cropper, then leaving for jobs overseas, or back home, or the sun of California. The human tides are as regular as the cycles of boom and bust and boom.

But there are also the lions who didn’t leave, who put their imprint on the battered city of the 1970s and remain part of the metropolis that emerged from it. New York is filled with them: Felix G. Rohatyn and Gloria Steinem, Charles B. Rangel and Robert M. Morgenthau, Diane von Furstenberg and Grandmaster Flash, Harry Belafonte and Larry Kramer. When others left, they kept on keeping on.

Milton Glaser’s 87-year love affair with New York is a fable of the city itself, beginning in one era of economic and ethnic division, the 1930s in the South Bronx, and arriving now in another one, with different fault lines and promises. Along the way, his I ♥ NY logo, first drawn on a scrap of paper in the back of taxi, has declared that love in a nearly universal language, understood in every corner of the planet.

“It’s freakish,” Mr. Glaser said. “Also, it’s something I wish people would forget, because I’ve done other things.”

During a visit to his studio, where the front door bears the motto “Art Is Work,” Mr. Glaser smiled when asked why he kept working. Upstairs, he and Clay Felker started New York magazine in 1968; on another floor, he once had 30-odd workers designing displays for Grand Union supermarkets.

“You really want an answer?” he said. “It’s the greatest source of pleasure in my life. I am so thrilled by making something that didn’t exist before. There’s nothing, nothing even close. I never go to the theater, I never go to concerts, I no longer go to movies. I don’t do anything except work. It’s like magic.

“I also think there’s an opportunity to do good. Not in a moralistic sense, but to feel that you’re a part of something larger than yourself. But that’s not really why I do it. I do it because it is so pleasurable for me. I derive this deep, deep satisfaction that nothing else, including sex, has ever given me. It’s the reason I’m here, is to do the work. And I’m so happy that I can still do it well.”

by John Leland, NY Times |  Read more:
Images: Nicole Bengiveno and Milton Glaser