LAMA BLOG

Just In: Alvin Lustig

January 26, 2018

After a few months studying under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin East in Wisconsin in 1935 American modernist design polymath Alvin Lustig (1915-1955) decided that a career restricted solely to the field of architecture wasn’t for him. Lustig, who once claimed that he was “born modern,” had a grander, more holistic vision for design that took a montage approach, incorporating and synthesizing diverse principles from an ever-evolving litany of sources, old and new. Of this varied approach he wrote, “The words ‘graphic designer,’ ‘architect,’ or ‘industrial designer’ stick in my throat giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, or a relationship to society that is unsatisfactory and incomplete.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Alvin Lustig, Hanging cabinet, executed 1947-1948
February 25, 2018 Modern Design & Fine Art Auction

Lustig fully embraced the principles of Modernism, rejecting what he considered to be the stifling restrictions of American design conventions. “The inability to respond directly to the vitality of forms is a curious phenomenon and one that people of our country suffer from to a surprising degree,” he insisted. Although deeply influenced by the theories and concerns that underpinned the work of modernists such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró, and Josef Albers, Lustig did not entirely reject the formal principles of classical design. “The factors that produce quality are the same in the traditional and contemporary book,” he maintained. “Wherein, then lies difference? Perhaps the single most distinguishing factor in the approach of the contemporary designer is his willingness to let the problem act upon him freely and without preconceived notions of the forms it should take.” Drawing on both past and present, Lustig wielded an entirely new modus operandi for design across just about every kind of media thinkable, including typography and book covers, magazines, advertisements, posters, office spaces, textiles, record sleeves, architecture, furnishings, signage, lighting, and even annual reports. “I think we are learning slowly how to come to terms with tradition without forsaking any of our own new basic principles,” he maintained. “As we become more mature we will learn to master the interplay between the past and the present and not be so self-conscious of our rejection or acceptance of any tradition. We will not make the mistake that both rigid modernists and conservatives make, of confusing the quality of form with the specific forms themselves.”

Lustig worked as the visual research director of Look magazine from 1944 to 1946 before returning to Los Angeles, where he established his office and began taking on interior design and architectural commissions. The work that came out of Lustig’s studio was almost immediately successful. Known for its highly streamlined fonts, flat colors, singular compositions, and simple geometric shapes, Lustig’s graphic design work was quickly adopted and adapted by designers across America and beyond. His reputation was cemented in 1941 with his iconic set of graphic abstract covers for the publisher New Directions. The quality of his work and his Bauhaus sensibility led to an invitation from legendary artist Josef Albers to teach at Black Mountain College in 1945, alongside such luminaries as John Cage and Buckminster Fuller.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Alvin Lustig Studio, 1951

The sleek aesthetic of Lustig’s graphic design work spilled over into his highly functional, yet stylish furniture designs, such as the custom hanging cabinet and credenza that Lustig executed between 1947-1948 for Corrine Chochem and Yehoshua Kovarsky. With its elegant, undulating profile, the same streamlined sensibility can be detected in his sculptural Untitled, a wooden piece Lustig designed for his New York offices in 1951.

Lot Information:

Lot 96
Alvin Lustig
Untitled
1951
Wood
96” x 15.125’ x 15”
This work was created for Alvin Lustig’s New York offices
Provenance: Estate of Elaine Lustig Cohen, New York, New York; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $6,000-$9,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Design & Fine Art Auction

Lot 98
Alvin Lustig
Hanging Cabinet
Custom
Executed 1947-1948 for Corrine Chochem and Yehoshua Kovarsky
25.5” x 100” x 15.5”
Provenance: Corinne Chochem and Yehoshua Kovarsky, Los Angeles, California; Estate of Max Finkelstein, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $5,000-$7,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Design & Fine Art Auction

Lot 97
Alvin Lustig
Credenza
Custom commission
Executed 1947-1948 for Corrine Chochem and Yehoshua Kovarsky
32” x 56” x 19”
Provenance: Corinne Chochem and Yehoshua Kovarsky, Los Angeles, California; Estate of Max Finkelstein, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California
Estimate: $3,000-$5,000
February 25, 2018 Modern Design & Fine Art Auction

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