DART Diary: The 9 West 9

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday March 21, 2024


“if you can’t make it big, make it red.” A favorite, often misquoted art school saw was best exemplified—at least for this writeropposiin the form of the big, red and shiny 3D piece of typography that once marked the entrance to 9 West 57th Street, NYC—a prime location opposite a luxury retail strip, built in 1974 by developer Sheldon Solow.  

A regular commuter to the Art Students League on the M57, I was curious to see the big 9 surrounded by scaffolding on a recent Friday. On the following Monday, I was shocked to find that it had been painted over in an incongruous shade of green. 

There are several things wrong with this. First of all, the 9 was perfectly executed in thick sheets of steel, then made as permanently red as possible by means of a flawless baked enamel finish. The piece was designed by Ivan Chermayeff, one of the second-generation grandees of graphic design, who named Paul Rand, first-generation grandee and author of the opening quote, one of his heroes. Ivan's firm, during the years in which I worked with them, was Chermayeff & Geismar.

Ivan Chermayeff (1932-2017) and his firm were authors of some of the most memorable corporate logos of the second half of the 20th century, many of which remain in use today. Walk through the Village and you’ll still see the blazing purple torch that marks NYU properties [designed by Tom Geismar]; on West 53rd Street, the often-imitated logo for the Museum of Modern Art; uptown, the shimmering yellow sun of the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s parent, the Smithsonian Institution. [second two designed by Ivan]  

About logo design, Chermayeff said, in a 2015 interview, “It is usually a two-month process, but it should look like it took five minutes.” At the memorial for Ivan, Tom Geismar said, "He loved surprise, large-scale objects, and the color red." His second partner, Sagi Haviv said, "Ivan was a brilliant designer and illustrator, with a vibrant personal style that reflected joy, intelligence and wit....his relentless quest for the perfect relationship between form and idea is the highest inspiration anyone could hope for, and will be his lasting legacy to the industry and the people who knew him." More  While the big red 9 was not a work of sculpture per se, it was surely one of the wittiest ideas for a corporate logo—and very likely the first of its kind. For this, it deserves the honor of permanence.

So I write this page in hopes that the 9 West 57th Street 9 will be returned to it's intended state and invite readers to join me in this plea: email  Top image, courtesy Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv; inset image: Peggy Roalf

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