California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way
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I went to this exhibition at LACMA earlier this year. I had the opposite reaction to this catalog.
The subject matter of the exhibition suggested a concrete direction for the typography — a place, a time, and most importantly, an attitude. The exhibition catalog should’ve been a perfect opportunity for a graphic designer to bring forth appropriate and evocative typography.
Instead, we get Gotham. A great face, but the wrong one for the job.
Gotham is based on American urban vernacular lettering. Wonderful, but this exhibition was not about the American vernacular. It was about a certain strain of midcentury design that was challenging, innovative, and sometimes over the top. I can think of many other typefaces — including others in the H&FJ library — that would’ve better evoked this mood.
Not that Gotham’s genetics should limit its career opportunities. But this exhibition tried to take design work that we remember largely through a lens of nostalgia and reanimate its sense of newness, of surprise, of discomfort. During its long reign as one of the most popular paid fonts in the world, Gotham has retained many virtues, but surprise and discomfort can no longer be said to be among them.
Not a problem in most cases, but here, it ends up putting the typography at odds with the agenda of the exhibition, and the work featured in the exhibition. In that regard, it reminded me of the Great Britain ad campaign featuring Interstate.