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Ellen Lupton’s top ten favorite typographic posters of all time


graphic designer, a curator and a writer at heart Ellen Lupton “makes this industry smarter. If graphic design has a sense of its own history, an understanding of the theory that drives it and a voice for its continuing discourse, it’s largely because Lupton wrote it, thought it or spoke it.” comments AIGA on the woman who wants to teach us something about design once again. Featuring more than 125 works from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition “How Posters Work” shows how dozens of different designers have mobilized principles of composition, perception and storytelling to convey ideas and construct experiences. On the occasion of this event, we asked Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, to present us her favorite typographic posters that are on view at the museum through Jan. 24, 2016. This is a top ten that will take your breath made of letters away. 

“Alexander Gelman, Walls of the City, 1992: I love the complexity of this piece and its sense of time and place. The composition references the collages of torn posters that may be found layered on the street. We perceive two planes (two sheets of paper) because the lines of text that seem to be printed on each one align visually.”

Alexander Gelman

“Jianping He, In Between, 2012: I’m fascinated by typography that tells a story about its own making. These stretched letterforms employ digital distortion in a way that feels very physical. You can almost smell the rubber melting.”

Jianping He

“Cornel Windlin, The Birth of Cool, 1997: The typography is brutally cool, but the surface is hot. The pink, textured background gives flesh and blood to this amazing poster.”

Cornel Windlin

“Philippe Apeloig, Bruits du monde [Noises of the World], 2012: Smudging the letters creates the sense of time passing. The poster is “blue” in every sense: brooding, melancholy, lethargic. The typography is struggling to get out of bed, dragged back into time by emotional inertia.”

Philippe Apeloig

“Felix Pfäffli, Salzhaus, 2014: Felix Pfäffli’s poster for the music house Salzhaus in Winterthur, Switzerland, features enormous geometric letterforms wrapped together in an impenetrable embrace. Each letter has its own identity, creating a remarkable abstraction.”

Felix Pfäffli

“Mieke Gerritzen, Next Nature, 2006: The posters and products of Meike Gerritzen comment on the glut of information in digital society. Here, messages crowd into every available space, recalling the hectic rhythm of a supermarket ad or a televised news feed.”

Mieke Gerritzen

“Ralph Schraivogel, Cinema Afrika Filmtage, 2006: In this astonishing poster by Swiss graphic designer Ralph Schraivogel, the linear patterns radiate from the words “Cinema Afrika,” resembling topographic lines on a map. Concentric lines engulf this edgeless, borderless landscape, leaving planes and boundaries uncertain.”

Ralph Schraivogel

“Niklaus Troxler, Jazz Willisau: In 1975 Swiss graphic designer Niklaus Troxler founded the Willisau Jazz Festival, which he directed until 2009. His series of posters for the festival represents an ongoing study in design process, as Troxler explored diverse means to create letterforms outside the norms of typography and typefaces.”

Niklaus Troxler

“M/M (Paris), Crustinien des Galapagos, 2013: The posters of M/M (Paris) are their own kind of art. They never merely promote a film or event but become unique cultural commentary. The hand-lettering in this poster is mysterious, erotic, sticky.”

Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak

“Wolfgang Weingart, NR. 4, 1974: Weingart’s designs will never cease to astound me. This is one of his relatively early posters, made when he was reinventing what it meant to be a “Swiss designer.” He has taken the most minimal elements of typography and created magical creatures.”

Wolfgang Weingart