Chip Kidd has designed many well-known and beautiful books, including his own very fine novel The Cheese Monkeys, which made a pretty good argument for the idea that graphic designers are the great unsung artists of the world. The collection of Kiddâ€™s work that is now on display at the Cooper Union makes for even more compelling evidence. Throughout his career, Kidd has produced consistently strong designs, and when you have a chance to wander through a room full of his books, itâ€™s striking to see how many of his images have seeped into our cultural consciousness, unheralded and unsung.
Kiddâ€™s work demonstrates an apparently encyclopedic memory for images, and a genuine feel for the texture of particular places and times. It also shows a remarkable flexibility. He doesnâ€™t hold to a particular look or approach; each jacket seems to have been developed organically, through relating to the book in question and translating its particular appeal into visual terms. Kidd is responsible for the iconic black-and-white tyrannosaurus on the cover of Jurassic Park, for the stark, text-only cover of Katharine Hepburnâ€™s Me, and for the oddly apt naked Barbie doll on the cover of David Sedarisâ€™ Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim. And yet, itâ€™s easy to spot a Kidd, once you know what to look for â€“ extravagant, innovative design features (such as the faux bullet holes in the jacket of Clint Eastwoodâ€™s biography, or the clear plastic jacket and color-printed cover of Donna Tarttâ€™s The Secret History), sharp wit, and images that seem to have resurfaced from years of obscurity, half-familiar and strange, like withdrawals from the memory bank of America. Several times, as I walked through Kiddâ€™s exhibit, I found myself faced with an image that I had seen only once or twice, but had never forgotten; I got used to discovering that things I had admired, but casually dismissed (as being only book covers, only nice design) were not run-of-the-mill examples of a general, organic trend, but the work of an artist with a distinctive sensibility and a very real genius.
Our culture is saturated with beauty, obsessed with it, addicted to it. We canâ€™t get enough. And yet, the conventional division between â€œhighâ€ and â€œcommercialâ€ art can all but blind us to some of the wonders that are being made at this very moment, that surround us on sidewalk used-book tables and magazine racks. â€œChip Kidd: Book Oneâ€ invites the viewer to take a long, deep look at the surface of things, and to appreciate that surface for all that it has to give. - Sady O.
â€œChip Kidd: Book Oneâ€ will be shown until February 4, 2006 at The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art, 7 E. 7th Street, New York, N.Y.
Ms. Sady O. is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. She also writes the Brain Porn Culture Blog.