In a pivotal moment where commerce, pop culture, and sports converged, Michael Jordan's dominance spilled from the hardwood onto our cultural landscape. We witnessed the transformation of athlete to brand, to something even greater—a signifier of sheer will to win, the Jumpman 23.
So it's not surprising that even as he celebrated the big five-oh this year, his aura still radiates. As a birthday gift to the man himself, the Jordan brand approached the creative media and design agency Doubleday & Cartwright, and handed them the task of putting together a private, one-night-only art exhibit of Jordan's storied life, held over NBA all-star weekend, at the Museum of Fine Art in Houston. The project objective: to parse out the Jordan legend into 50 stories to be interpreted visually by 50 different artists, including projects by Grotesk, Rich Tu, David Rathman, Gustavo Dao, Ryan Dugan, Sophia Chang, Jason Jagel, and Lola Dupre, among others. A one-off book of the exhibit will be presented to MJ as well.
DD & Cartwright collected first-hand accounts from MJ's intimate associates to create a multidimensional story that cast Jordan not only as the archetypal winner but as someone whose influence shifted our experience of contemporary culture. DD&C's Kimou Meyer assembled a roster of artists who could re-channel '90s culture and sports iconography in the form of a Jordan story. The goal was to illustrate the many dynamics at play in Jordan's life, ranging from the career milestones to insider lore and untold stories. Meyer had only 10 days to do it.
"We had submissions that ranged from realistic portraiture in acrylic paint to minimalist design-based pieces to smoky ink-and-watercolor landscapes," said Meyer. "We even had a rendition of MJ's high school emblem created from chain-stitching, which is basically an antique method for embroidering fabrics, as well as a fictitious cigar box label rendered with pyrography, a method of burning a wooden surface by hand with a hot needle. We assigned everybody a specific topic and story to tell, but beyond that we left it completely open to the artists to interpret those stories in whatever style and material they wanted." Coupled with each visual was a small text blurb, which formed the seed of the story, and was often interspersed with quotes from long-time friends, competitors, and mentors.
Featured in the exhibit was artwork that nodded to MJ's fierce, competitive spirit—his forays into baseball, golf, and motor sports and his request to have a ping-pong table installed at the arena so he could play against fellow teammates and reporters, the "Chicago Breakfast Club." There were some pieces that touched on his pop-culture status, such as his involvement with Spike Lee and his Wheaties box appearances (he’s made more appearances on the box than any other athlete). There were others that cast him as a tastemaker, breaking league uniform rules by wearing red and black shoes, and triumphing in the process. And there were even stories that painted Jordan as a prophetic visionary, as when he boldly predicted to shoe designer Tinker Hatfield that people would be wearing the Jordan 11s with a tuxedo. Soon, Boyz II men were showing off new 11s on the red carpet at the Grammy's.
"Jordan was like a superhero. It was amazing to watch him—in real time—create mind-boggling feats of super-humanity: the hang time and circus shots especially," said SF-based visual artist Jason Jagel, who was asked to contribute to the exhibit. Jagel's assignment was a bit more abstract. As one of the first athletes to shave his head, MJ transformed baldness into style, and Jagel's job was to recreate a Chicago-style barber-shop piece, replete with slang, referential odes, and classic hair-cuts of the time. "I stick my tongue out when I paint," said Jagel. "Not on a Jordan level of course."
Whether it was Jordan himself who changed the relationship between pop culture, sports, and commerce, or if he was simply the first athlete co-opted for multinational marketing is a moot point, according to Meyer. "Regardless, the fact is that he transcended sport and became a cultural icon to an extent that was never seen before and probably hasn't been achieved since. It's a level of influence that you see most athletes aspire to today, but it all began with Mike."
Those living in the Washington, D.C. area in the '80s circa the Iran-Contra scandal might remember the bold graphic poster emblazoned with "Meese Is A Pig" popping up around the city. They were hard to miss for commuters and locals alike. The posters appeared overnight and were visible on various public spaces. The graphics were clearly aimed at Reagan cabinet member and advisor Edwin Meese who was enmeshed in Iran/Contra and also the champion of various far-right causes in the administration. The poster campaign got national attention. Soon, the poster's creator, Jeff Nelson (of Dischord Records and Minor Threat fame) was revealed. With respect to Nelson's album sleeve and logo designs (among our favorites ever!), his "Meese Is A Pig" poster remains his masterpiece. Nelson sold T-shirts with the image, which covered his printing costs and the graphics lived on long after the street campaign was over. With Edwin Meese back in the news as the backer a government shutdown and national anti-Obamacare efforts, we're pleased to see "Meese Is A Pig" getting its due.
Detroit boasts a history of legendary axmen—Jack White, Ted Nugent, Robert White, Wayne Kramer and Dennis Coffey to name a few. And now, thanks to the passion project of commercial real estate director and woodworker Mark Wallace, the next great musician on that list may kick out the jams with a guitar made from a chunk of the city itself.
Built in a Corktown workshop, Wallace Detroit Guitars are fashioned from wood salvaged from the city’s recently demolished buildings. Each instrument will be branded with the address of the home that provided the wood, reinforcing the local heritage of the material.
So far, Wallace has created two prototypes that need to be tested, but a recent $8,000 matching grant from the Knight Foundation should allow him to expand production. Eventually, he wants the finished product to include more salvaged material from other local companies, like a strap made out of leftovers auto parts.
“One of the great things about Detroit is the collaboration,” he says. “Everyone wants to work together because they know they’re making the city a better place.”
Wallace's project is currently getting off the ground thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation.
The excellent design blog Thisispaper is now available, wait for it, in paper. We queried editor Zuzzana Gasior on the new print mag.
What is Thisispaper for those unfamiliar?
As Thisispaper we are now running two different, but interweaving projects. Thisispaper Magazine is where we share our inspirations and obsessions from multiple fields of design. Our roots are in the digital world but we find print equally alluring. We started off as an online magazine and continue running it, by we have recently ventured into print and released Thisispaper Magazine Inaugural Issue in paper and ink. Thisispaper Shop is our second, younger brainchild. It’s an online store with hand made products.
Which designers have been selected for the issue, how did you decide who to include?
The full list of featured designers is as follows: Studio Glithero, Faye Toogood, Formafantasma, Phoebe English, Nina Donis, Feilden Fowles Architects; photographers Kanoa Zimmerman and Marcel van der Vlugt; artist Anouk Griffioen.
The selection process was simple. We decided to feature designers whose work we’re impressed by and who have a strong conceptual background behind their work. We were particularly curious to find out about their creative process so we chose the ones that put emphasis on the process, not just the finished product.
Why do you think a print publication was necessary?
As you will quickly discover when you open the magazine, some of the interviews are quite massive, and were intended to be so from the start. We wanted to explore the designers’ creative processes in depth. Such content lives better in a tangible book that online. While surfing the web, people focus on image and have a short attention span and it’s not the best environment to present content that requires a careful reading. Plus we’re really drawn to the beauty of a printed object, the texture of paper, smell of paint and so on.
Thisispaper.com was an ironic name, but now it has a literal meaning.
Good point. Since Thisispaper is an umbrella term for both the site and the magazine, it now means that digital and print can coexist without undermining one another’s position. This is due to the fact that they are good for different things. The content that we feature online is much more image-based, while for print we look for something that requires more time and effort to absorb.
You're based in Warsaw, does that surprise a lot of your readers?
It does come as a surprise sometimes, but mostly to people in Poland. When they see Thisispaper they don’t expect it to be a Warsaw-based endeavor (love the word).
The print publication is a very limited run. Why is that? Do you hope to expand? Is it harder or easier to do a print magazine in Poland?
The print publication is not a limited run. We will print as many copies as there is demand for. 250 is the minimal number that we need to reach in the pre-order period to print the magazine, but there is no maximum limit on how many copies we will print. That said, it’s hard to imagine a situation when Thisispaper is available on every newsstand
Nowadays when distribution mostly happens online, printing a ad-free magazine is a comparable experience in Warsaw and everywhere else. It would probably be harder for us, though, is we were trying to attract sponsors.
Where can one get the print magazine?
Online at thisispapershop.com/product/thisispaper-inaugural-issue or soon at some local stores worldwide.
Do you accept contributions and pitches?
We do. See here for possible ways of working with us: welcome.thisispaper.com
While Swedish students may not have to worry about the same tuition bills as their American counterparts enrolled in private colleges, they do have to contend with a small scale housing crisis. A growing number of students are priced out of conventional apartments. So the architects at Tengbom are testing a housing system at Lund University that would reduce each apartment to just over 100 square feet. The studios have 13 foot ceilings and multiple windows to counteract the small footprint, and use lightly colored sustainable wood as a primary building material. The houses are completely independent from one another, but the plan is to build clusters of about 22 units for a kind of modified communal living. [images via Bertil Hertzberg]