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Milton Glaser

Jim Poris - September 2001

Food Arts presents the September 2001 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Milton Glaser, the graphic designer and co-founder of the influential Push Pin Studios, whose ebullient vision and good humor has kicked the stuffiness our of public interactions like shopping, playing, and eating. Since the mid-1950s, Glaser's imagery has refashioned shopping malls, restaurants, playgrounds, toys, textiles, supermarkets, posters, newspapers, magazines, book jackets, album/CD covers, and consumer products. Among his best-known works is the I ♥ NY logo for the state's ad campaign.

To Glaser, design means "...the intervention in the flow if events to produce a desired effect...the introduction of intention in human affairs," and moving" things from an existing condition to a preferred one." Glaser considered all three of these meanings when he collaborated with the late Joe Baum on the original and renovated versions of Windows on the World, the restoration of The Rainbow Room, the Big Kitchen in the base of the World Trade Center (a prototype for International food courts now so common in malls), and the hight-toned Aurora, all in New York City. It's also on display at the very popular Trattoria Dell'Arte in Midtown, with its anatomical paintings and sculptured plaster.

"I love the social effect of restaurant: the fact that for a brief moment you feel better than anywhere else," Glaser said in a 1990 magazine interview. "You can create, through the use of space, light, and color, a place where people are transformed emotionally."

It was with words, though, that Glaser most profoundly affected the food world. First, in the New York Herald Tribune and then, when that paper folded, in New York, the seminal city magazine he co-founded in 1968, Glaser teamed with Jerome Snyder to write a column/review called "The Underground Gourmet" that unearthed the ethnic culinary exotica hidden in inexpensive restaurants scattered throughout the city's netherlands. Suddenly, slumming for dinner became a middle-class sport. "We made it socially acceptable to eat in joints," Glaser says.

Glaser's and Snyder's excavations were compiled into a paperback that spawned editions focusing on other cities. "It was about emerging cuisines," he says. "We wrote the first piece about Sichuan food—about a place downtown—and in two months is seemed as though Sichuan restaurants were popping up all over the city, it had become so popular. 'The Underground Gourmet' opened a discourse, made it all right to be adventurous and look at other things." As food anthropology, its lasting effect can be seen in so many well-researched, ethnic-inspired restaurants; yesterday's authentic discovery has become today's concept.

All that aside, Glaser says his main interest has been in "challenging the parochial professional distinctions that exist in the design field and amplifying the essential idea that design has consequences." So, too, he may add, does looking for a good cheap meal.