Chip Kidd: Book One - Cooper Union, NYC

Submitted by Sady O on December 23, 2005 - 10:41

ckidd.jpgChip 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 Kidd’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, it’s striking to see how many of his images have seeped into our cultural consciousness, unheralded and unsung.

Kidd’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 doesn’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 Hepburn’s Me, and for the oddly apt naked Barbie doll on the cover of David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim. And yet, it’s easy to spot a Kidd, once you know what to look for – extravagant, innovative design features (such as the faux bullet holes in the jacket of Clint Eastwood’s biography, or the clear plastic jacket and color-printed cover of Donna Tartt’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 Kidd’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 can’t get enough. And yet, the conventional division between “high” and “commercial” 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. “Chip Kidd: Book One” 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.

“Chip Kidd: Book One” 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.

sadyo.jpgMs. Sady O. is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic. She also writes the Brain Porn Culture Blog.