When I was a kid, my family and I would see shows at our town’s golden era movie house. It was a small, second-run theater. Its rich decor and the perpetual smell of popcorn oozed of the past in this kind of magical way. My favorite visit was to see Back to the Future. I can remember the juxtaposition of an art deco theater and a time-traveling Delorean like it was yesterday. I was taken back to that moment earlier this year, and again last week, walking around the Museum of Moving Image (MoMI) in New York with a new expansion designed by Leeser Architecture and new identity and signage designed by karlssonwilker. While this project is a few months old, there is not much information out there about it, so I decided to do some digging and gather some of the loose images on this project, most found on this Flickr set by Archidose and this Facebook album from karlssonwilker.
Upon approach to the building the museum’s logotype, large and imposing, confronts you on mirrored glass. Once inside you are enveloped in angular whiteness and digital projections, the whole thing reminiscent of a cartoon imperial destroyer. The bright colors employed in the environmental lighting, signage, and visual system complement the stark, hard interior. After exploring, you find yourself in dark rooms with interactive media, virtual reality, and movie equipment and memorabilia spanning over a century.
Originally opened in 1988, the MoMI was the first U.S. museum dedicated to the art, history and technology of film, television and video. Clearly, the museum which reopened its doors earlier this year was not that same institution. The visitor is not only emerged in the past, but also the present and future of the moving image.
The typeface, designed by Cologne-based Julius Terlinden that creates the Museum’s logotype was drawn on a triangular grid inspired by the Museum’s new façade. As the core identity element, it seems fitting. The new building’s architecture is so memorable, so why fight it? It manages to evoke the golden era of cinema while looking curiously futuristic. It also has a remarkable Saul Bass quality. The typeface is not only used to create the logotype, but employed as a central messaging platform within the museum on signage and used in print materials.
It’s good to note that bespoke typefaces and architectural forms have been employed before for a number of museums and cultural center identity’s including MAD, The Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, The DeYoung, The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and the Casa da Musica to name a few.
Online, the MoMI’s logotype becomes filled with abstract, slowing moving, imagery. This digital application seems to be less satisfying than one would wish. Given the rigidity of the letterforms, it would be interesting to see it have more movement. As far as a greater visual system, 3D-esque blocks function as containers for photographs, text, and serve as animated buttons. These buttons are emotionally satisfying and highly recognizable as a branded design element, but lose their playfulness after a while. Another graphic element is a spike-like 3D graphic appearing in many different colorful iterations. It is often used in exhibition signage with dynamic, skewed, typographic titles reminiscent of sensational movie titles from the past.
While the identity really comes alive in the space itself, it’s less impactful when in basic print materials and web application. Part of me wishes the beauty of large images, cleanliness, and simplicity of white type exhibited in the museum’s interior was more prevalent in these other other touchpoints. Nonetheless, the space is where the real experience happens, and what is a brand but an experience.
I used to think of the MoMI as “that old movie museum” but clearly with their current design and programming they have moved past that. The museum has repositioned itself (as they put it) as an institution that “advances the public understanding and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media”, and they seem to be delivering. With this new building and new branding, they’ve overcome any stigma they might once have had. When you visit, see if you can find a copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac.