Book Review: Born Modern The Life And Design Of Alvin Lustig
Average Rating: ( 0 votes)
Alvin Lustig is one of the most important Modernists you've probably never heard of. Prior to his tragic death at a young age, Lustig was responsible for a revolution in book jacket design, experimental typography, print technique, design education and a host of contributions to interior and product design. But this unique and important figure in Modern design has been largely forgotten. Thankfully, a new monograph titled Born Modern: The Life And Design Of Alvin...
Alvin Lustig is one of the most important Modernists you've probably never heard of. Prior to his tragic death at a young age, Lustig was responsible for a revolution in book jacket design, experimental typography, print technique, design education and a host of contributions to interior and product design. But this unique and important figure in Modern design has been largely forgotten. Thankfully, a new monograph titled Born Modern: The Life And Design Of Alvin Lustig has been published by Chronicle Books and written by design guru Steve Heller and Alvin's widow, Elaine Lustig Cohen, sheds light on this Modern Master. Read more after the jump...Beautifully designed and richly illustrated, the authors divided the book into five main sections:
1. Born Modern: The Magic Years which details Alvin's childhood, early interest in art, design and architecture (including a brief stint at Taliesin, studying with Frank Lloyd Wright). It also touches on Lustig's experiments with typography and printer's ornaments to create beautiful printed geometric abstractions.
2. Practicing Modern: Life In Print makes up the meat of the book, with a detailed examination of Lustig's many important contributions to graphic design and print. In addition to a more detailed review of Alvin's typographic and geometric ornament prints, the chapter also includes the story and several large illustrations of his groundbreaking book jacket designs in the 1940s for James Laughlin's New Classics series, work for several magazines and a host of advertisement designs. It makes sense that the lion's share of the book be devoted to his print work, since Lustig's contribution to this discipline was so important. But there was more to the man than just print design.
3. Building Modern: A Three-Dimensional World describes Lustig's passion for architecture, furniture and interior design. He not only was a master of the 2-D arts, but could translate his unique notions of what good design should be into spatial terms, helping to create buildings, interiors, products, retail displays and more. Especially intriguing is his design for curvaciously Mod "Lustig Chair" created for for Paramount Furniture in 1949.
4. Teaching Modern: Designer As Educator explores Alvin's desire to reach out beyond the artist as isolated creator. He passionately believed that good design could make the world better and it was his calling to reach as many minds as possible and shape them with his views, uniting theory with practice. He was invited to teach at colleges and develop design course curriculum which helped lay the foundation for design education programs across the country.
5. Messianic Modern: Designer As Author is perhaps the most curious chapter of the book as it looks at Lustig's unique "spirituality meets design message" ideas and his role as an almost Christ-like figure in preaching the "Good Word" about the saving graces of "Good Design." Although this could be seen as flirting with blasphemy, the authors instead take the time to explain the complex ideas of a very complex man. Lustig's sense of urgency about preaching his ideas on the importance of design came largely from him having to face his own mortality, losing his precious eyesight and succumbing to an early death in 1955 at the age of 40.
The book is a phenomenal and engaging read, visually rich and thought provoking at the same time. Merging the design knowledge of Steve Heller with the living history of Elaine Lustig Cohen imbues the book with a depth of understanding on the subject of Alvin Lustig no other authors could have provided. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in Modernism and Design (with a capital "D") and wants to learn more about one of its masters—I highly recommend it. Get more information and purchase your copy here.
Cover image via Chronicle Books/other images via PrairieMod