New Work: Vilcek Foundation

Vilcek_Final_620.jpg The new Vilcek Foundation website. Click image to go to the site.

The Vilcek Foundation is a unique organization that promotes the contributions of immigrants to the sciences, arts and culture in the United States. Established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, who themselves immigrated to the US from the former Czechoslovakia, the foundation honors and supports foreign-born scientists and artists. The foundation annually awards a pair of Vilcek Prizes—one in the biomedical sciences and the other in the arts and humanities, each worth $50,000—and showcases work of immigrant artists at its gallery in New York.

This month the Vilcek Foundation launched a new website designed by Abbott Miller, an update of the site he originally created in 2006, when he designed the foundation’s identity. The new design showcases foundation programming in a flexible framework of panels or “cells” on the site’s homepage. The panels can be devoted to multiple highlights or “channels”—award recipients, gallery and lecture announcements, video clips—or come together to make one image. Clicking on an image panel takes the visitor to the relevant section of the site.

Project Team: Abbott Miller, partner-in-charge and designer; Kristen Spilman, designer.

New Work: ‘Fashioning Fashion’

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The birth of the modern fashion industry can be found in the exacting tailoring and structural innovations of clothesmaking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail 1700-1915 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a new exhibition that traces fashion’s aesthetic and technical development from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I, through transformations of the fashionable silhouette and evolutions in textiles, techniques and trimmings. The show is one of three inaugural exhibitions at LACMA’s new Resnick Pavilion designed by Renzo Piano, and since opening earlier this month has emerged as the “sleeper hit” of the fall season. The exhibition remains on view through March 6, 2011.

Designed by Pentagram’s Abbott Miller, the Fashioning Fashion exhibition catalogue highlights the amazing structures and luxurious details of the garments. Like the exhibition, the book has been divided into four sections: Timeline, Textiles, Tailoring, and Trim. The book juxtaposes lush close-ups of the astonishingly well-preserved garments with images of the complete costumes on mannequins like those seen in the exhibition. The catalogue features a preface by John Galliano, a contemporary designer notably inspired by period dress.

New Work: ‘Chaos and Classicism’

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Following the chaos of World War I, European art turned away from avant-garde abstraction and looked for a “return to order,” a shift towards clean lines, classicism and—unsurprisingly, given the destruction of the first machine-age war—the depiction of the human figure intact. The result was an aesthetic of “clarity” that worked its way through a variety of ideals, from the High Modernism of the Bauhaus, to the fascism of Mussolini’s revived Roman Empire, to—most chillingly—the Aryanism of Nazi culture. The Guggenheim’s major fall exhibition, Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, is the first in the United States to examine this international phenomenon. Pentagram’s Abbott Miller has designed the exhibition graphics and catalogue for the show, which opened this weekend and remains on view through January 9, 2011.

Litl Wins Big in the 2010 IDEA Awards

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Our collaboration with Litl on the graphic design and user interface for its Litl webbook has received two honors in the 2010 International Design Excellence Awards. The awards are presented by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and sponsored by Fast Company, Dow Corning and The Henry Ford.

The Litl webbook packaging, designed by Litl with Abbott Miller, received a Gold in the Packaging & Graphics category, while the Litl OS won a Bronze in the Interactive Product Experiences category. Lisa Strausfeld and her team worked with Litl and Cooper on the design of the graphical user interface for the webbook OS.

Miller designed the brand identity for Litl. The webbook packaging is simple, straightforward and designed to appeal to a wide range of ages, embodying Litl’s mission as technology for everyone. The entire package is made from recyclable paper with no plastics or foams used, and the packaging doubles as its own shipping box.

“The Litl webbook is for families who aren’t necessarily tech savvy, and the wit and charm of the brand language translated in how the packaging was presented and unfolded,” commented IDEA juror Fumi Watanabe, creative director of merchandising at Starbucks. “The smart use of corrugated box structure, which made the packaging look thoughtful and giftable, also functioned to protect the product. Attention to details and emotional connection granted this packaging the design excellence.”

The Litl webbook itself, designed by Litl with Fuseproject, won a Bronze in the Computer Equipment category.

Design for a Living World, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum exhibition designed and co-curated by Abbott Miller, was a Finalist in the Environments category.

‘The Guggenheim’ Book Wins Top Honors from AAM

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The Guggenheim: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Making of the Modern Museum, the book published to commemorate the museum’s 50th anniversary last year, has been awarded first prize by the American Association of Museums (AAM) in the Books category of the 2010 AAM Publications Design Competition. The competition recognizes excellence in graphic design of museum publications and is the only national juried competition of its kind.

Designed by Abbott Miller and Susan Brzozowski, the book chronicles the process behind the landmark modernist building. The book’s layout was inspired by architectural journals of the 1950’s, and a full third of the book is comprised of an extraordinarily detailed timeline that describes the museum’s design and construction as told through archival drawings, correspondence and press clippings. Read more about the book’s design here.

New Work: ‘Project Mah Jongg’

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For an ancient Chinese game legendarily invented by Confucius in the year 500 B.C., mah jongg enjoyed an extraordinary efflorescence in 20th century America, where it became a cultural phenomenon and fixture in Jewish-American communities. Abbott Miller has designed “Project Mah Jongg” a new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York that explores the traditions, history and meanings of the game in Jewish-American culture. The show opened on May 4 and remains on view through January 2, 2011, and will then travel to multiple venues in the United States. Miller has also edited and designed a book called Mah Jongg: Crak, Bam, Dot!, published by 2wiceBooks, that serves as a companion to the exhibition.

Miller worked closely with museum curator Melissa J. Martens to create a visual narrative of mah jongg’s unusual hybridization of Jewish and Chinese cultures. The game became an enormously popular fad in the U.S. after sets were first imported in the 1920s. This coincided with a period of national immigration restrictions, and mah jongg’s foreign associations stirred both intrigue and stereotypes in the press. It gained a reputation as a “vice,” a gambling game and sign of rebellious flapper behavior. But in Jewish communities, it was perfect for women’s gatherings and fundraisers, where the rule cards were sold for charity. After World War II, the game became a staple of bungalow colonies in the Catskills and suburban Jewish homes, and it is still played by hundreds of thousands of people today.

With its iconic tiles, graphic symbols and colorful material culture, mah jongg holds special appeal for designers. “Mah jongg is a visual universe unto itself, one governed by dragons, directional winds, and cocktails,” says Miller. “It was—and still is—social media with a heavy dose of style and history.”