Mind “The Gap”: Rebranding “The Met”


This morning, my inbox blew up with Khoi Vinh of design/technology/culture blog Subtraction noting Diana Budds’ analysis of brand strategy in the internet age and issuing a plea for the improvement of design criticism in the public square.

Well alright, what’s the flap about?

The spirited debate comes on the heels of  The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s controversial rebrand. The Met has jilted a 40 year old, classically trained design for a new, out-of-town romanceur.  Mark Kingsley of Brand New offers his take on the Meaning Of All This:

“So why red? According to the Wolff Olins press release, red was chosen “because it embodies passion and vitality, and has done across time and culture.” This was demonstrated via the above mood board of random selections from the collection. For such an encyclopedic institution, this rationale is inadequate and could apply to any other client with a red logo.

So here’s a suggestion…

Dr. Elena Phipps is a specialist in the history of textiles and has been associated with the museum since 1977. She has written and spoken wonderfully about cochineal red, a color made from insects found in South America. After the Spanish conquest of the New World, cochineal red became the second most valuable export from the Americas after gold. Her chemical analysis of pieces in the museum’s collection helped prove the pigment’s global spread centuries before we even heard the word globalization.

How perfectly appropriate for the Met.

Also within their collection, the museum has a Frank Lloyd Wright interior (he signed his buildings with a red square)… a deep collection of Greek red-figure pottery… numerous Chinese scroll paintings with red collector’s chopsChristian Louboutin shoes… the fugitive red lake pigment of Van Gogh’s “Irises and Roses,” and so on.

Red is perfect. And a better case for the color could — should — have been made. Especially when the client is an art museum.”

A well-considered justification – I wonder how Eduardo Galeano would respond.

In any case, The Met and their salon crew are earning a hellvetica of a lot of blowback over their new wordkicks. Like the time back in 2010 when GAP got all casual with how they wanted to visually talk to their very real customers – and the professional design community reacted with great umbrage.

Perceptions of relevance, fending off competition for the title of the Western Hemisphere’s largest and most encyclopedic museum, definition of a new era (and all typological haircuts to be associated with said era, in hindsight) – there’s a lot riding on this new wordmark.

Smithsonian Magazine offers a cup of solace with a silver rim. Wolff Olins launched a 2012 rebrand of Smithsonian to much praise. A fractured public’s shouts, yelps, and caterwauls have since been replaced by steady footfalls and fairly steady annual attendance numbers. Design returns to camouflage; divide and dissolve.

To my eye it looks a bit dated, as though a Designers Republic were redeclared:

Nine Inch Nails “Sin” (1989) – typeface by The Designers Republic

The Met’s new visual metaphor plays on a theme of connectivity, but I feel it lacks lungs, or room to breathe – it essentializes brand identity, reorients a spatially and aesthetically decentralized domain, builds and deploys an appropriate color association, yes – but collapses the lofty symbolism of  the columns, colonnades, and Vitruvian proportion that make the original Met space such an appealing (and intimidating) realm removed from the hyperdense built environment of Manhattan.  The rebrand suggests a property working within established local norms of personal space on a dynamic, internationalized stage…with very aggressive serifs.

I hadn’t imagined The Met taking the subway until now. Visually arrested for shanking a fellow straphanger, with those serifs (again.)

New York’s got a few other Mets, too. Come to think of it, this ident could be the offspring of MetLife and New York Life logos, with certain recessive alleles.

“The Met” – I’ve always found it a little colloquial. Also a great pitch for a film about the horrors of meeting people you already know – a huis clos for the 21st century museum goer. This trailer has already gone viral, hasn’t it:

LINDA: “I’m Linda. Have we met?”

(pan hard right; voice from offscreen)

O/S: “Yes, Linda, I believe we have.”

NARRATOR: “We’ve met the enemy…and they are us.”

(cue “Sympathy For The Devil,” screen cuts to black)

The Met. (letters emerge, out of focus on a spreading red background)

NARRATOR: “It’s who you know.”

Regardless! Hopefully I’ll pay the Met a visit this summer.

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