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There’s no doubt that you’ve seen the iconic “I ❤️ NY” logo on everything from T-shirts to bumper stickers and highway signs. But where did New York’s most ubiquitous branding come from? What many don’t know is that the legendary logo was the creation of graphic designer Milton Glaser, who passed away in June 2020 at the age of 91 — and is now the subject of a new exhibition at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in their tribute, “SVA❤️Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser”

The entrance to the “SVA❤️Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser” exhibition. Photo: Fana Fend/SVA

Glaser, a Bronx-born, lifelong New Yorker and graduate of Cooper Union was known for co-founding the quintessential New York magazine as well as design firm Push Pin Studios, creating scores of high-profile poster and album cover designs (including one psychedelically-inclined publicity poster for Bob Dylan), and designing his own fonts. But it was his hand-scrawled design for a New York State tourism campaign that cemented Glaser into the pantheon of NYC greats. 

In the late 1970s, New York City’s frequent blackouts and financial troubles contributed to a lagging tourist scene. Sensing the need for an intervention, the New York State Department of Commerce sought out advertising agency Wells Rich Greene and Glaser to come up with a simple, enticing campaign to reel in visitors. Sitting in a taxi on his way to a meeting Glaser was inspired to sketch the now-famous design, which would eventually feature a typeface “I NY” around a straightforward heart icon. Glaser did the work pro-bono in hopes of helping his hometown, and his design went on to generate over $30 million annually in state tourism for decades to come.

In collaboration with the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, SVA’s exhibit held at their Gramercy Gallery (209 E23rd Street) features an immersive tour of Glaser’s work through archival photographs, audio recordings, and exclusive artworks. Check out one of Glaser’s more than 100 album covers in a record shop setting or his many book and magazine cover designs displayed prominently in their own book store. Walk through a recreation of Glaser’s office and gain the inspiration he gave to hundreds of students throughout his long tenure as an SVA faculty and board member.

The “Record Store” at the “SVA❤️Milton: The Legacy of Milton Glaser” exhibition. Photo: Fana Fend/SVA

School of Visual Arts 3D Design Chair Kevin O’Callaghan is one of many who studied under Glaser, telling NY1, “This exhibition is about a man who changed the direction of graphic design [….] The students really want to learn about how the greats thought, you know, how did they get from point A to point B, and that’s what this show is kind of about.” 

The exhibit is open Monday-Friday 10am-6pm through January 15 (note that the gallery is closed for the holidays December 23-January 2). There is also a companion window exhibit visible from the sidewalks outside the SVA Flatiron Gallery (133/141 W21st Street) through January 10. Advance pre-registration, masks, and vaccinations are required for all visitors. 

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