Pentagram’s Paula Scher publishes book to mark 25 years of working with NYC’s The Public Theater

Dubbed an “autobiography of graphic design”, the book includes Scher’s posters for hits like Hamilton, as well as essays from critics Steven Heller and Ellen Lupton.

27 January 2020

Graphic designer and Pentagram Partner Paula Scher is to publish a book documenting and analysing her 25-year relationship with the Public Theater in New York. Scher began collaborating with the theatre in 1994, creating a much-copied visual language that reflected “street typography in its extremely active, unconventional and almost graffiti-like juxtaposition.” The identity was hugely influential and has been described by the Cooper Hewitt as the “ne plus ultra of graphic design”.

The book, which will be published by Princeton Architectural Press in April, intends to take readers behind the scenes of the project which span two decades of brand design and visual output. There are more than 400 images in the tome, including Scher’s posters for shows like Hamilton, Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk and Shakespeare in the Park productions, alongside sketches and insight into the process.

Most of the posters she designed are included, bar a handful, she explains to It’s Nice That. “There are two summer Shakespeare posters that aren’t included, one that I didn’t design (there was a brief period where I was sort of fired, and you can read about it)  and one that I personally hate so much I don’t want to see it published.”

Critics Steven Heller and Ellen Lupton have penned essays to shed light on the context of Scher’s work, which often chimed with political events, as well as to discuss the impact it had on the wider graphics community. Scher’s posters for The Tempest and Troilus commented on the Republican Congress’ threats to reduce arts funding, while her posters for the the posters for The Taming of the Shrew in 1998 hinted at the scandal preceding President Clinton’s impeachment. Her 1995 posters for Savion Glover’s Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk featured a typographic-led layout where letters radiate from a photograph of a tap dancer, calling to mind the noise of traffic and urban life. The Public’s typographic style and capitalised block wood type was much emulated by other theatres in the city and in industries beyond the stage.

“The point of the book is [to show] that there is no way to predict the future when you design an identity, it is a living breathing thing,” Scher continues. “It is like a marriage, there are good times and bad times. There is success and failure. We always wish we can redo the bad times, but they are often what cause good things to happen.

“This is an honest book about design and designing. I started working for the Public to make posters that would live and be seen New York City, Some of that happened, and still does, but mostly the identity lives on in the Instagram posts of its audiences. There is no way I could have predicted that in 1994.”

After this initial collaboration Scher and Pentagram rebranded the theatre in 2005, redrawing the logo using Akzidenz Grotesk and dropping the word theatre from the mark, to emphasise the human-centric nature of The Public. In 2008, the identity was updated once more – to coincide with a major renovation – and combined a logo in Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ font Knockout with a De Stijl-inspired grid. More recently Paula worked with Public’s then senior graphic designer Kirstin Huber on the visuals for the 2014/15 season.

The book will also feature essays from two of the theatre’s artistic directors, George C Wolfe and Oskar Eustis, who reflect on how the identity had an impact on the Public’s reputation for community and inclusion.

Twenty-Five Years at the Public: A Love Story is out 14 April 2020, published by Princeton Architectural Press.

GalleryPaula Scher/Pentagram: The Public

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Paula Scher/Princeton Architectural Press: Twenty-Five Years at the Public

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About the Author

Laura Snoad

Laura is a London-based arts journalist who has been working for It’s Nice That on a freelance basis since 2016.

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