Hirshhorn Re-Identifies


Graphic design studio Chermayeff & Geismar recently unveiled a spiffy new look for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC — one of the venerable Smithsonian art institutions and the second most attended contemporary art museum in the US.* The problem? The museum’s name is still widely unknown, even after a previous rebranding effort in 2008. (And as highlighted in the revamped logo design, it possesses two concurrent H’s in its spelling.) Take a closer look with us after the jump and examine some possible influences for the new design. Update: hear what the designer has to say.

According to the designers at Chermayeff & Geismar,

We took the most distinctive aspect of the word “Hirshhorn,” the three H’s, and emphasized it, making a memorable wordmark. As part of the complete identity system, we redesigned the museum’s magazine and created a distinctive style using vibrant colors for other publications, posters, and promotional materials.

We spoke to founding partner Ivan Chermayeff, who further explained: “We decided to emphasize the ‘H’s’ in the Hirshhorn logotype simply because it’s such a rare occurrence for a word in the English language to have three of them.”

The Hirshhorn collateral is looking mighty modern, geometric, and colorful. What oh what could possibly serve as influence for its design? A couple of ideas:

James Turrell Milk Run (1996), currently on view as part of the exhibition ColorForms. Turrell, famous for his minimalist yet transcendent light field installations, is part of a most excellent exhibition that “at once defines and challenges perception” by exploring color in varying mediums. Photo courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum.

Josef Albers Homage to the Square – Arctic Bloom (1965), one example of the iconic Albers series which was displayed in a solo exhibition on Albers’s color theory. (It closed on April 11.) As a professor at Yale University, Albers developed his principal theory that color has no inherent emotional associations, and he “emphasized the subjectivity of perception” by showing color’s ambiguity, deception, and contradiction through a series of simple exercises and a standardized painting format. Homage to the Square is subsequently a series of optical illusions, “challenging viewers’ visual acuity.” Photos courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum.

Addressing our suggestion that Albers may have had some influence on the redesign Chermayeff goes on to say, “We take a long term view when we design a visual identity, so in this case we designed one that would relate to any artist featured in the museum for years to come. Although Albers influenced my color sensibilities, the bright color scheme wasn’t really intended to relate to his work. Rather the use of such a bright colors and especially the red is intended to make the communication from the museum as strong and artistic as possible, and to help make the signage at the museum really stand out.”

So: sort of, but not entirely. And now we know!

Josef Albers Homage to the Square – Glow (1966). Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum.

*That would be the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.