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228 Leonardo Reviews EXHIBITION DESIGN+UNDESIGN: TIBOR KALMAN, 1979–1999 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, Fall 1999. Reviewed by Kasey Asberry, 955 Delano, San Francisco, CA 94112, U.S.A. E-mail: . design+undesign is a retrospective exhibition of the late Tibor Kalman’s work. The show was organized with his guidance , before his death in May 1999, and mounted at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in September 1999. It includes Kalman’s work as principal of M&Co: as publisher and as designer of objects for daily living, advertising strategies and campaigns for public awareness. Kalman and his wife, Maira Kalman, founded M&Co (“For All Your Design Needs”) in 1979 and then proceeded to raise the bar for wit and vigor in the design world. Throughout this exhibition, the viewer is confronted with artifacts of an approach to design that has had tremendous influence during the last two decades and continues to be fresh, which makes the loss of Kalman all the keener. Our time is still very much in need of the playful-serious spirit that questions authority with every meticulous gesture. I had to visit the show several times because it is so popular and so dense. Obviously, I am not alone in finding so many of my favorite things in one place. I had not known that Kalman played a part in producing some of them: the titles for Matewan (a film by John Sayles), a jacket design for Armacord (a recording of Nino Rota’s music), Maira Kalman’s delightful series of children’s books (Max Makes A Million, Ooh La la: Max in Love, Chicken Soup Boots and Next Stop Grand Central Station). Even with the more familiar expressions—Benetton Colors advertisements , Interview and Artforum magazines —that Kalman is well-known for, I walked around smiling with a lovely sense of discovery. These things are all interrelated—what is the mysterious glue that produces so much dynamic cohesion? The exhibition notes assert that M&Co’s primary aims were to serve and to entertain. They developed consumer objects such as watches and menus with flair and whimsy, poking fun at their own source of sustenance—advertising —with great success. “The only reason to advertise, and the only criterion on which to be judged . . . and to hire us . . .,” riddles an M&Co advertisement. Yet, it is an installation video, “Der Leuf deu Dinge” (The Way Things Go, Weiss/Fischii) that may provide an important clue as to what Tibor Kalman was essentially up to: transference of energy through the most unlikely Rube Goldberg–like arrangement of materials and objects clear through to the viewer. This work, even with its self-conscious nods to postmodernism and completely populated with inanimate objects “interacting ” with each other, is very funny. Kalman clearly had a deep understanding of the transmission of energy, particularly communicative energy. Kalman also loved the cliché, because it furnished him with so much material. Precisely the idea that everyone else accepted provided Kalman the opportunity for its irreverent exploit. He did not directly treat such clichés as “Bad things happen to good people” and “The good die young” and yet my encounter with the collection/selections from his very rich collaborative worklife had its effect, as it set me in grateful motion. I laughed out loud to read the advertisement for cut-rate logo design and other self-aware marketing collateral (we can only wish for wider acknowledgement of such) and I was surprised by his work done to bring awareness of homelessness among M&Co’s industry peers and by the efforts to guide rejuvenation of Times Square in New York. Had Kalman lived to be 80 he would have still been contributing to culture. In a video playing in a quieter corner of the exhibit, viewers could see Kalman in hospital and on a TV talk show speaking, almost nostalgically, about his own approach to work “as a 10-year old . . . who’s in charge” and about his love of the process of calling the status quo into question. Viewers could also wonder to what extent he developed his skills to respond to the time or whether a great part of his true talent...


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