January 23, 2013

Lustig exhibition may inspire “a new book-buying addiction”


An exhibition of book covers showcases the work of Alvin Lustig and Elaine Lustig Cohen.

An exhibition featuring the work of modernists Alvin Lustig and Elaine Lustig Cohen is on display at the AIGA Headquarters in New York until February 15th. The show collects the book covers from between 1933 and 1961 — over 500 hardcover and paperback designs, as well as magazine and catalog covers — that demonstrate the Lustigs’ unique blending of European modernism with an American interpretation.

Print Magazine’s blog review of the show when it opened last September in Saint Paul, MN warned “It is sure to trigger pangs of belletristic acquisitiveness and perhaps even launch you on a new book-buying addiction — yet even the most dedicated collector will find it difficult to match the quality of the books displayed in this design show.”

Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen co-authored Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig, in which they explain Lustig’s modernist and sometimes abstract creative process in distilling the book into a visual expression:

Lustig seldom relied on literal solutions [for his cover designs]. His method was to read a manuscript to get the feel of the “author’s creative drive,” then restate it in his own graphic terms. This approach could easily be confused with art for art’s sake, or style for style’s sake, since the cover designs were so far from providing any literal clue to the plot or content.

When Alvin Lustig died suddenly at the age of 40 from complications from diabetes, Elaine took over the design business and became an accomplished designer in her own right. In addition to her design career, she also ran a bookstore called Ex Libris that specialized in European avant garde books and ephemera from the Upper East Side home she shared with her second husband Arthur Cohen.

Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.