School of Visual Arts to Honor Steven Heller

School of Visual Arts to Honor Steven Heller

Steven Heller

School of Visual Arts (SVA), New York City, will honor Steven Heller with the Masters Series Award and retrospective exhibition. He is the author, co-author or editor of over 100 books on graphic design, illustration and political art, was an art director at The New York Times for 33 years and is a columnist for The New York Times Book Review. Heller is also the co-founder and co-chair of the MFA Design Department and co-founder of the MFA Design Criticism Department at SVA. "The Masters Series: Steven Heller" will be on view from October 22 - December 1, 2007, at the Visual Arts Museum, 209 East 23rd Street, New York City.

Curated and designed by Kevin O'Callaghan, chair of 3D Design at SVA, the exhibition highlights the inspiration and collaboration behind Heller's many achievements as a writer and art director. On view will be over 100 covers of The New York Times Book Review that Heller art directed and a visual anthology of his major publications, with select volumes available to peruse. An adjacent video installation will feature interviews with co-authors Mirko Ilic, Lita Talarico (co-chair of the MFA Design Department at SVA), Seymour Chwast, Marshall Arisman (chair of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department at SVA) and Gail Anderson (on the faculty of the MFA Design Department at SVA) about their collaborative process. Nearby, visitors will be able to browse Heller's many contributions to American and foreign periodicals at a full-scale replica of a New York City newsstand. The centerpiece of the multimedia display will be a larger-than-life photo montage of Heller's library with recorded commentary about his collection of design ephemera and its role in his research and writing. In a series of video podcasts specially commissioned for the exhibition, Heller will discuss design in the context of popular culture, politics and history.

"Steven Heller has immortalized our graphic past and made coherence of our present," said Paula Scher, the designer behind such graphic icons as the Citibank logo and recipient of the 2002 Masters Series Award. A longtime colleague of Heller's on the faculty at SVA, Scher will design the exhibition catalog, poster, banner and invitation. Ralph Caplan, author of the now-classic By Design: Why There Are No Locks on the Bathroom Doors in the Hotel Louis XIV and Other Object Lessons (Turtleback, 2005), will write the catalog essay.

Steven Heller was an aspiring teen cartoonist in the late 1960s when he found a receptive audience at New York's underground papers, first as a contributing artist at the Avatar, then as the art director of the New York Free Press, New York Review of Sex and Screw. "I had no idea what I was doing," says Heller of his first foray into art direction, the June 27, 1967 edition of the Free Press. Originally hired to be the paper's mechanical artist, he had to learn typesetting, paste up and other fundamentals on the job. He soon developed a love for layout and design, but a stint at NYRS was cut short when a crackdown on the sex press caused the paper to fold. At Screw, a journal of cultural criticism pegged to sex, Heller worked with then up-and-coming illustrators like Brad Holland, Ed Sorel and Marshall Arisman.

In 1974, Heller's appreciation for political illustration and social commentary led him to The New York Times. He was made art director of the Op-Ed page, then the Book Review, and became a senior art director in 1980. During his tenure, the publication was reinvigorated as a platform for contemporary American illustration. In 1992, Heller's byline began appearing in the paper as he wrote obituaries of design luminaries like Henry Wolf, Paul Rand and Tibor Kalman. Soon his writings about about popular visual culture were appearing in The Week in Review, Arts & Leisure, and Weekend sections, in addition to design-related book reviews. Heller is now a consulting art director at the paper and has a column entitled Visuals, a quarterly roundup of books about visual culture.

Steven Heller is the author of Paul Rand, the first major monograph on the legendary American art director, teacher, writer and design consultant (Phaidon, 2000). He has edited numerous handbooks for aspiring artists, designers and arts educators, including The Education of a Graphic Designer (Allworth Press, 2005) and Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design (Allworth Press, 2004), and four volumes in the series Looking Closer, which brings together today's leading designers, critics and theorists. A frequent collaborator, Heller is co-author, with Seymour Chwast, of Graphic Style: From Victorian to Digital (Harry N. Abrams, 1988); with Louise Fili, of Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design Mannerisms, Quirks, and Conceits (Chronicle Books, 2006); and with Mirko Ilic, of Anatomy of Design: Uncovering the Influences and Inspirations in Modern Graphic Design (Rockport Publishers, 2007). An ongoing fascination with one of the most notorious logos in history inspired The Swastika: A Symbol Beyond Redemption? (Allworth Press, 2000). Since the early 1980s, Heller has been editor of the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design, the publication of record for the nation's professional association for design. He is a contributing editor at Print, Eye and I.D., and has written for Baseline, Communication Arts, Design Issues, Esopus, Grafik, Graphis, Metropolis, Mother Jones, Paper, The Progressive, STEP Inside Design and Trace, among others. Heller's current book projects are a biography of Alvin Lustig to be published by Chronicle Books in 2009 and Iron Fists: Branding the Totalitarian State, about graphic design as a tool for propaganda, due to be published by Phaidon in Fall 2008.

In 1996, after teaching the history of illustration at SVA for 14 years, Heller was invited to start the College's first design MFA program. With co-chair Lita Talarico he conceived a curriculum in which students are encouraged to think for themselves while creating products of value to others. "The aim of the program is to transform designers into authors, producers, editors and entrepreneurs," says Heller. Since its founding ten years ago, the MFA Design Department has attracted faculty like Paola Antonelli, Milton Glaser, Maira Kalman, Stefan Sagmeister, Bonnie Siegler, Warren Lehrer and Veronique Vienne, and graduated some of today's most promising designers. He recently co-founded with Alice Twemlow the new MFA in Design Criticism, which will begin in Fall 2008.

Heller has organized numerous conferences and exhibitions for AIGA, SVA and other institutions. Among the many honors Heller has been given by his peers are the AIGA Medal for Lifetime Achievement, the highest honor for a member of the design profession in the U.S.; the Art Directors Hall of Fame Special Educators Award; and the Society of Illustrators Richard Gangel Award for Art Direction. Heller also serves on the design and architecture acquisitions committee at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In 1988, SVA founder Silas H. Rhodes instituted The Masters Series, an annual award exhibition to honor great visual communicators-designers, illustrators, art directors and photographers-of our time. Though their achievements are lauded by their colleagues, the names of groundbreaking artists often go largely unrecognized by the general public. The Masters Series is intended to bring public exposure to those whose influence has been felt strongly and by many, yet without widespread recognition.

Past Masters Series laureates are Marshall Arisman, Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Seymour Chwast, Paul Davis, Lou Dorfsman, Heinz Edelmann, Jules Feiffer, Shigeo Fukuda, Milton Glaser, George Lois, Mary Ellen Mark, Ed McCabe, Duane Michals, Tony Palladino, Paula Scher, Deborah Sussman, George Tscherny, Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli.

The Visual Arts Museum, located at 209 East 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, is open 9am to 7pm, Monday through Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday. Admission is free. The museum is accessible by wheelchair. For further information call 212.592.2145.

School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City is an established leader and innovator in the education of artists. From its inception in 1947, the faculty has been comprised of professionals working in the arts and art-related fields. SVA provides an environment that nurtures creativity, inventiveness and experimentation, enabling students to develop a strong sense of identity and a clear direction of purpose.

School of Visual Arts

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