Reviewed

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A new identity program paying tribute to the the New Museum’s new building, new location, new principles and new international partnerships was newly unveiled to the public just in time for the new year on December 1st, 2007. Gone is the barber-stripe-clad moire mouthful, “New Museum of Contemporary Art.”

An informant from the design team articulated the organizing principle.

“…we have taken the concept of what a museum is, in a sense a platform/container of art and applied that idea to the identity using language.”

Message is the medium in the program created by Wolff Olins and friends*. With the brand principle “New Art, New Ideas,” informative, entertaining, and provocative messages serve to cohesively expose and build on the mission of the institution with a rigorous brevity. For a museum with no permanent collection, all this interchangeable newness makes a lot of sense. The museum’s imperative is to scream “come one come all” to this new art high-rise on the historically gritty Bowery; home of flooring, ramekins, Julia Stiles’ condo, and the remnants of CBGB’s awning.

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The 235 Bowery message is used as the default logo as a practical ends to incessantly remind the uninitiated where the new art and ideas are. Sadly, an address number is an abstract thing in a city whose colloquial directional logic operates first in cross-streets, and second in building numbers. Regardless, one can’t argue with the new brick and mortar, as it were. Speaking of, New York Magazine has a solid review of the architecture by the Tokyo firm, SANAA, and Gothamist has some hot detail shots of the lovely bathrooms and exterior wall details. Particularly welcoming is the sign installation on the exterior by Ugo Rondinone which shouts a rainbowed “Hell Yes” to the Bowery.

Besides giving the requisite what and where, non-sequitur quips pop up now and then to remind us that it’s a cool, accessible place with a newly self-aware personality. My favorites are “New Forget It Museum”, “New Celebrity Museum” and the “New I Could’ve Done This Museum”. As a whole, the system conveniently bundles the concept of curatorial, cultural, and interpretive flexibility with the museum’s angsty, anti-bourgeois, punky downtown heritage. At times though, the sentiment becomes ambivalent and sarcastic… from a tired hand at a dry-erase board in a brainstorming session on Madison avenue.

Poster-sniping throughout the city for the launch campaign was prolifc and memorable, second only to Dr. Zizmor’s ongoing-takeover of New York subway adspace. Curiously, recent Radiohead snipings for “In Rainbows” are pretty darn similar.

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Type is employed at a scale which softens the belligerent all caps house-style between fields of flat black. The post-Eurostile/Microgramma typeface, Neographik, lends a touch of sci-fi, high-tech irony. Thankfully, it is less sober than MoMA’s Gothic, and somehow feels more timeless. Custom typography results in the museum’s collateral materials passing the “glance and you know where’s it from” test. Moreover, the type is dressed in eclectic colors that collapse the sophisticated palettes of Paul Rand in the mid 50s and Esprit in the late 80s. Besides forging a tight appearance, the stacked and varied arrangements of type create pleasantly haphazard rags which feel very similar to the asymmetrical shape of the building.

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Aesthetic merits of the architecture will be experienced by visitors in context; as a metaphor for containers, galleries, and tenements; however, silhouettes of the building awkwardly decorate some materials. When the jagged rectangular shape is hijacked for use on banners and posters, it loses all scale and subtlety, feeling like a poorly conceived retail product — an unborn Zune accessory or the cousin to Amazon’s Kindle. But in contrast to all this forced logic, the Casa Da Musica successfully utilizes its container shape to offer a visual equivalent of the audio experience by way of using the impermeable concert hall’s silhouette as a vehicle for describing events with multifaceted experiences. The much hyped CK graf billiboard takeover video in advance of the opening, feels overdone. A street-cred stunt like this would only be required if the New Museum was misplaced in Murray Hill. The new language system is not an entirely new idea… flash back to 2005 when Seigel & Gale got there first with their naming system for the Parsons the New School for Design.

So far, the expressions of the New Museum identity are striking and distinctive in achieving a coherence between mission, building, and identity. Modularity and user-controlled elements have transcended fashion and now appear as a requirement of identity design in contrast to the slick and straight-faced management style modernism of yore. Yet, unlike the flexibility of the seizure-inducing pizzazz of the the 2012 logo, this brutal program demonstrates a measured and seductive pragmatism. We can surely look forward to even newer flexible identities in 2008.

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*Expanded credits for the identity program are:
Identity concept: Wolff Olins
Design development: Wolff Olins, Omnivore,
and the New Museum in-house design department
Advertising: Droga 5

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Reviewed January 4, 200801.04.08 by J. Marianek


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