Saturday, February 20, 2016

In Defense of the New Met Logo

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (of which I'm a member) has traded their classical logo (above) for this one based on type:

The new logo has come in for a lot of criticism (NY Times, NY Magazine). I can see why, but I'm going to take my time over this one.

There's no question that the old logo was more authoritative—more "classical." It's also, I would point out, one hundred percent European, and more specifically Renaissance European—and that suddenly strikes me as odd, because if you've ever walked through the Met, then you know that this greatest of museums in the greatest city on Earth warehouses the artistic output of the entire planet from all times. So even given the centrality of Renaissance European art to the history of art, the museum's old logo just doesn't cover what the museum actually is.

Of course, one cannot claim either that the new logo reveals the museum's scope; the new logo is only type. But not attempting to show the scope is still more accurate than representing the whole by a part.

And I'm not so sure that the new logo doesn't allude subtly to the collection. Does the arch of the first T suggest to you a doorway in the Cloisters? Does the negative space between the E and T in the word MET suggest Picasso, or at any rate the artistic concept of negative space itself? How about the negative space in the H—an art deco vase? Does the M's shoulder wear the armor of a knight or a samurai? Perhaps type serves after all to hint at the chaotic variety of the Met. The compression of the letterforms and the exaggeration of their serifs combine to produce a vaguely helter-skelter feel, or perhaps the feel of a proto-alphabet like Phoenician.

I'm not yet convinced about the color, but I'll wait to decide until I see the print campaign. I think my strongest reaction right now is to the new logo's kinetic energy. What I mean by "kinetic energy" is that the word THE appears right-shifted in such a way that it seems to be trying to get ahead of things, or perhaps in such a way as to impart a sense of clockwise rotation to the logo as a whole. On a closer look, one can see that the letterforms in THE are in fact precisely aligned atop the corresponding letterforms in MET. But the fact that the logo begins and ends with T means—given the horizontal gap between the top of a letter T and its base—that the word THE still feels as if it slightly overhangs the word MET. Hence the kinetic energy.

The designer probably intends this effect: it suggests a museum in motion, whereas the previous logo suggests both solidity and stolidity.

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