From the SPD Archives: Gold Medal Winners, SPD Gala 25, 1990

From the SPD Archives: Gold Medal Winners, SPD Gala 25, 1990 SPD50h.jpgHere are six stellar art directors displaying their gold medals, awarded at the SPD Gala 25 on May 4, 1990. They're pictured in the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, just before the Gala began. Pictured, left to right: Diana LaGuardia, art director, Conde Nast Traveler (and President of SPD); Tom Bentkowski, design director, Life; Seymour Chwast, Push Pin; Rip Georges, former art director, Esquire; Steven Hoffman, creative director, Sports Illustrated; and Fred Woodward, art director, Rolling Stone.

The 25th anniversary SPD Gala was co-chaired by Walter Bernard, principal of WBMG, and Phyllis Richmond Cox, the art director of Bride's. Milton Glaser was the MC of the event. Both Tom Bentkowski and Fred Woodward were on the SPD Board of Directors at this time, and both would later become SPD Presidents.

This photograph was taken by Martha Holmes, who was a photographer for Life for 40 years. has a remarkable collection of photographs by Holmes.

To accompany this photograph we have a remembrance from Steven Hoffman, and a wonderful essay by Tom Bentkowski.

STEVEN HOFFMAN: This picture is a treasure to me. Surrounded by idols, friends and mentors. At times, the same people were two or all three of those things all at once.

It is clearly from a time when we all dressed formally (undertaker mode) at the New York Public Library. They actually might not have let you in if you were not 'properly attired.' Can't swear to that, but I wasn't about to take a chance.

Programs neatly arranged on the chairs as if at a wedding, (but you could sit on either side of the aisle). After the presentation and slide show were over, everyone would would make a mad rush to the bar, and then to a terrific buffet dinner with a live band and plenty of dancing and mingling.

A few years after this photo was taken, Ina Saltz and I were the hosts of one of the last of the long string of New York Public Library Galas. I recall Ina in a magnificent gunmetal grey strapless silk taffeta ball gown looking radiant.

Working counterclockwise back row, I see...

...Fred Woodward: Enough said. The Michael Jordan of print. As usual, winner of best dressed in men's category.

Rip Georges: I worked with Rip at my very first job at New West magazine (an erstwhile offshoot of New York magazine with Llyod Ziff as the original AD) launched in 1976. I also rented one of my first apartments in L.A. from Rip, and still would like to know why there was a three foot in diameter hole in the floor deftly hidden by a rug that Rip said I could just leave where it was and keep. Just by looking him in this photo, you know he still thinks he has gotten away with something. As he matured (not evidenced in this photo) Rip became one of the great magazine talents and all around great guys.

Tom Bentkowski: One of the most hard workin' and talented designers in the world. He learned his craft and journalistic skills from Milton Glaser and Walter Bernard at New York magazine. When we started New West, Tom came out to L.A. for a few months and was enormously generous with his insights and skills. He did amazing work at the late great Life magazine. Unfortunately, Tom is still a Buffalo Bills fan, but luckily for him he is an even bigger hockey fan.

Diana LaGuardia: The legendary designer of The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Traveler... the list goes on and is mind-boggling. Diana was always the most fun to be with. I always looked forward to the Galasjust to hang out with her.

Seymour Chwast: An all-world master of many things: illustration, design, teaching... but as I recall, not such a master at poker. When I first arrived in NYC and worked at New York , someone said, ' just give Seymour at Push Pin a call... he'll do it.' Boy was I nervous, but he invited me down to Push Pin, the most prestigious design office in the world, and became an immediate friend. A total mensch.

Steve Hoffman: That would be me. Creative director at Sports Illustrated for 24 years. At the time, we were still using a waxer to attach photostats on layout boards, a typositor to handset headlines, one letter at a time, and were cutting ourselves with Exacto blades. You know, the good ol' days.

It still astonishes me that the work produced by this group of ne'er-do-wells, and so many other terrific print designers of the time, was so beautiful... using so little technology.

Happy 50 to SPD

Steven Hoffman was the creative director of Sports Illustrated from 1987-2008. You can see his past and current work at Hoffman Noli Design.


TomBentkowski2.jpgTOM BENTKOWSKI: There we were!

For many years, SPD's Awards Dinner was held at the New York Public Library. And during those years, the magnificence of the setting added to the magic of the occasion. We were, on those evenings, decked out in our best formal attire. We promenaded arm-in-arm down grand winding staircases. And we strolled beneath crystal chandeliers, through majestic stone colonnades and down halls of endless marble. We were, for that one evening, like characters in a novel set in the Gilded Age. Little did we realize that, had we been celebrating on that very spot a hundred years earlier . . . we'd have all been under water. 

As improbable as it may seem, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street was once the site of the Croton Reservoir, a vast man-made lake that was the source of the water that New Yorkers drank and bathed in. Four acres of water. Twenty million gallons of water. All of it surrounded by stone walls 50 feet high, and 25 feet thick. Walls decorated in an Egyptian motif, with a promenade along the top where Edgar Allen Poe liked to stroll. But as New York evolved through the 1800s into a world capital, it needed a great central repository of knowledge. There had been libraries in New York before. But they were largely the ego-driven collections of books assembled by the very wealthy, and accessible only by scholars. The New York Public Library represented the extraordinary idea that a vast accumulation of ideas be made available to everyone. When a lawyer, legislator, governor, and former presidential candidate named Samuel Tilden died in 1886, he bequeathed his fortune to establish a free library and reading room. And what a magnificent building was the result. The architects Carrere & Hastings were chosen to create a grand Beaux-Arts temple to thought. (They would later go on to create other great monuments, notably the memorial to President McKinley in front of the Buffalo City Hall.)
In our day. we glorify the new, the inventive. the unprecedented, the previously unimagined. But then, a great work of architecture embodied the accumulation of the ideas and principles and philosophies that had come before. The Public Library, (like the The Metropolitan Museum, or Grand Central Station) symbolizes a notion of grandeur that had been developed over the ages. Monumental structures were the manifestations of our aspirations, and the belief that our very presence within their walls could, in some way, enlarge and ennoble us.  And there we were. Celebrating one another in a building that itself represented the culmination of a thousand-year intellectual journey, and which was the repository of the precious artifacts of that journey.
It was altogether fitting and proper that we met there.
And ironic.
The art that we practiced, the art we were honoring that night, employed the same 500-year-old process represented on the 75 miles of shelves within the space we were sharing.  We too created and refined and then replicated ideas by forcing molecules of a dark, gooey substance into the fibers of paper. Again. And again. And again. Thousands of times. Millions of times. The products of that ancient process--those forever-transformed sheafs of paper--were abstract objects. They were not themselves the things they pictured or the ideas they represented. But they were the things that triggered visions and ideas and memories in the beholders. They were the building blocks of civilization. And they arrived on those shelves by the same means that, in our own time and in our own way, we employed to transport our thoughts and visions to the mailboxes, to the newsstands, to the collective consciousness of our audience. What process today remains unaltered for 500 years? Or for five years? Or for five days?  But there we were. In the place where words soaked into paper became ideas set in stone. Strolling those hallowed halls with the ghosts of history smiling over our shoulders. Honoring our own works of art in the place that was, in its day, the largest marble structure ever built in the United States.  As we drank a few too many glasses of wine, as we feasted on the poached salmon, the wild rice, and those improbably slender spears of asparagus (the elegance of a dinner is always defined by the thinness of the asparagus), as we boogied to the obligatory strains of "Mustang Sally" (the musical group's most requested number) we were, in our own small but special way, not simply enjoying an evening, but celebrating our role in a marvelous historical continuum. Little did we understand how much that role was already being transformed.

In Victor Hugo's novel Notre Dame de Paris a character glances down at a book on his desk, then gazes over at the massive silhouette of Notre Dame Cathedral. "This will kill that" he proclaims to two visitors. By "this" he meant the printed book. The "that" was architecture. To Hugo, architecture represented the history of knowledge. Before the printing press, he believed, it was Mankind's buildings that communicated the development of ideas. It was architecture that was the handwriting of culture. To be sure, his definition of architecture was a broad one. It included carvings, sculpture, painting, mosaics, and stained glass windows.  But by the mid 1800s, Hugo doubted whether architecture had anything left to say. He feared it had run its course. The invention of printing made the transmission of knowledge quick, cheap, and endlessly repeatable. How can we be surprised, he wondered, that human intelligence has quit architecture for printing? Printing made ideas ubiquitous, irresistible, and indestructible. Architecture had also, for centuries, stood for the concept of the central, all-powerful decree. It conveyed the historical sovereignty of the institutions that commanded the resources and manpower and coercive authority to impose both an intellectual doctrine and a moral code. Printing, as a social practice, would come to embody exploration, discovery, and debate. And disruption. In the age of architecture, challenges to the established power structure had amounted to little more than passing irritations. In the age of printing, those challenges would proliferate and become the impetus for intellectual and social revolution.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Sometimes, historical eras blend into one another in ways that seem incomprehensible. (Lorenzo DaPonte, Mozart's collaborator, ended up living in the Bronx.) Victor Hugo postulated that it is the means of communication that ultimately determine the effect of information on society. In other words . . . the medium is the message. The New York Public Library, representing an architectural continuum that extended back to the Parthenon, was dedicated on May 23, 1911. Two months later, Marshall McLuhan was born. He was to become the visionary/philosopher of the information age. In his books and essays, he would explain the meaning of modern media and see into the future.  He would create a eerily prescient picture of a phenomenon he called "The Global Village"  We call it the internet.

To Victor Hugo, "This will kill that" represented a warning, an ominous prognostication about a disruptive and dangerous future. Today, the idea that new technologies will constantly replace the existing ones is something we not only take for granted but welcome. Someone once said that every new technology relegates the one it replaces to the status of Art.
So we might hope
Between the moment of this photo and today, our profession has changed in ways that were then beyond our imagination. But looking at the happy honorees in the picture, we can't help but sense both the history and the possibility embedded in the magnificent walls that surround them.
There we were.
Here we are.

Tom Bentkowksi was the design director of Life magazine from 1987-98. He was the President of SPD from 1994-96 and a longtime officer and board member. Tom was co-chair of SPD's Mag2000 conference held in Monterey, California, in 1996.

Photograph of Tom Bentkowski by Steven Freeman.

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