CSU’s biennial poster exhibition tribute ‘hearts’ iconic designer Milton Glaser

Since 1979, Colorado State University has celebrated the world’s best graphic designers through its Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition. But when the pandemic hit, CIIPE Co-Director and Curator John Gravdahl knew things would likely have to change.

While the official biennial event is postponed until 2022, the CIIPE — along with the Bolivia Poster Biennial BICeBé, the Golden Bee, the National Design Biennial UBA – Argentina and the International Poster Festival of the University of Buenos Aires UBA as co-organizers among Diseñadores Gráficos Bolivia and the Aurea Foundation for the Visual Arts and Design — have created a special event to honor a graphic design legend.

Beginning Sept. 16, Hatton Gallery presents Designers for Glaser: International Invitational Exhibition in Homage to Milton Glaser, a special exhibition paying tribute to the graphic designer. Glaser is best known as the creator of the “I NY” logo, as well as the 1967 poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair and, more recently, an ad campaign for the TV show “Mad Men.”

Gravdahl, a CSU professor of graphic design, sat down with SOURCE to talk about Glaser’s influence, the exhibition and what changes will be in store for the poster show in the future.

SOURCE: I think a lot of people may not know the name, Milton Glaser, but they certainly know his work, especially the I ♥ NY logo.

Gravdahl: Absolutely. It’s a symbol that he created way back in the ’70s when he was working for New York magazine. He and some colleagues began a campaign to revive the spirit of the city, which — especially at that time — was pretty low. So he created I NY as an icon.

But he never really intended for it to be what it became. It was a quick solution from the heart. No pun intended. As a New Yorker, he was expressing a very genuine feeling there with the symbolism and the efficiency that graphic designers strive for. A simple, strong message that could be very complicated and have many layers, but one that people will also instantly understand, especially New Yorkers. And it just went crazy. Everybody had to have it. They had bumper stickers, they had mugs. It was literally everywhere, and it turned into a really big thing.

And, as I understand it, he never received any compensation for it. It was just something he did for the love of it. Needless to say, everybody has found a way to reuse it for everything from I whatever kind of a dog breed that they really love to other cities or even food. ‘I something’ is now an icon of American existence.

Glaser died last summer at 91, but he was working right up until that point. What kind of impact do you think his work will have in the coming years?

He was creating right up until he died. That’s a designer’s dream, really anybody in a creative field. He was prolific and still innovating.

What do you think it was that made his work so iconic? Because it really did have a very specific, if intangible, quality to it.

A great design is a good surprise. You do something that people weren’t expecting to see and then they’ll pay attention. That’s the whole idea of communication. And Milton Glaser’s career was full of surprises.

If you’re doing something with, let’s say, a Sharpie marker, he’d be the guy that would try and do an illustration using something like a paper towel with texture on it or adding a unique pattern. It’s something that I try to get across in my classes: As soon as your mind says, ‘What if I did this?’ then that’s the moment you should try it. Don’t make a decision until you have actually tried it. That was always evident in the way he approached things.

What can audiences expect to see in the “Designers for Milton Glaser” exhibit?

We invited internationally prominent poster designers to create their own tributes to Milton Glaser. The goal was to create an exhibition that specifically shows an awareness of the impact of his efforts and contributions. So it won’t just be the works that you might expect, it’s going to be a surprise. You don’t need to be an expert on Milton Glaser to enjoy the show. Although after having seen it, I think you might become an expert. It’s also a wonderful cross-section of international perspectives and treatments of and reinterpretations of his work.

Because of the pandemic, the full exhibition, along with its usual satellite shows, is being postponed to 2022. What other impact do you think COVID will have on future events?

One of the interesting aspects of the cultural impact of the pandemic is that it’s affected everything — personal relationships, employment, travel, banking, environmental policies, international relationships. So I’m sure we’ll see that reflected in works in the coming years. This year the show will also have a virtual component. Audiences can take a 360-degree virtual tour of the exhibit online.

One thing that won’t change is our effort to make sure that the exhibition is fresh and new every time. There will be few familiar names but we also want to continue to introduce people to new artists. That’s a big part of our mission, bringing in new talent and recognizing promise.

The Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition show, Designers for Glaser: International Invitational Exhibition in Homage to Milton Glaser, is on display in the Hatton Gallery Sept. 16 through Oct. 15. General gallery hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The show is free and open to the public.