I often compare my life to episodes of the Twilight Zone. Although I know this may reveal an unhealthy dependence on popular culture, I’d argue that TV is a pretty good mirror of our hopes and dreams. Wouldn’t you agree?
So, let me tell you about two Twilight Zone episodes, which when conflated represent the way I think about my existence.
The first is The Mind and the Matter, about a guy who through wishing it so is able to create the world exactly as he wants it.
The second, A Penny for Your Thoughts is about another guy who flips a coin and when it unexpectedly stands on its end, he has the ability to read minds for an entire day until inadvertently knocking it over and ending his powers.
In my custom scenario, almost everything I’ve ever wanted to accomplish has happened because in some cosmic way, somewhere a coin is standing on its end.
How else can I rationalize being born in New York City – the best city on the planet – to globetrotting liberal Democrat parents, who at a very early age encouraged me to stuff envelopes for Adlai Stevenson, and an uncle who also at a formative period introduced me to the political wit of Mort Sahl. Together they instilled liberal values that have been my underpinning ever since. Go Hillary!!
Isn’t that just a throw of the dice?
After all I just as easily could have been incarnated as Larry Craig’s son, daughter, nephew, niece or plaything.
With this in mind, I live in a state of perpetual anxiety, worried that I’m going to inadvertently knock the coin over.
Call it obsession, superstition, or just plain crazy; call me neurotic, psychotic, or Woody Allenotic, I usually feel more often than not undeservedly lucky, and someday – maybe tomorrow, in fact probably tomorrow – all my luck will abruptly end.
So what I do to postpone the inevitable is lay low. I try not to give the fates a good reason for knocking the coin or me down.
When Silas Rhodes told me after last’s year’s Christmas staff meeting I was the 2007 recipient of this Masters’ exhibit and award, the same one that Jules Feiffer, Heinz Edelman, Marshall Arisman, Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast received before me, I immediately started joking with him about how silly this was…
…although I didn’t mean it as a joke. I was terrified.
After all, I am truly NOT an artist of their caliber – I am not even an artist.
At best I am a catalyst, who has had the good fortune to know and work with them. BUT I could tell by Silas’ cold stare, he was NOT amused, and it was time to shut up and accept the honor.
The fact is I am incredibly grateful. I can’t tell you how amazing this is. . .
But in truth this isn’t happening because of me alone. In the real world my luck is aided and abetted by others. Frankly nothing I have done would be possible if I didn’t have many of you here today who made me look better than I really am.
This exhibition, every last detail brilliantly and lovingly designed and curated by Kevin O’Callaghan, transforms a ragtag assortment of objects and obsessions into an experience that I hope may impart some message to the viewer. The one thing I told Kevin is this show is not about me, it’s about the work I’ve been involved in that has had an effect on others in this field. That he took this on, and for so many grueling months, despite all his other obligations, he and Adria Inginerie devoted themselves to this event, is proof positive that I am only as good as the people I work with (or more to the point, leave alone so they can do it much better).
I’ve morbidly joked that this is the best funeral anybody could ask for - particularly because I’m here to enjoy it.
Moreover, This exhibit and dinner offers me the rare opportunity to acknowledge those who have made this life of mine possible. So I’d like to briefly share my gratitude with you all (one bit of warning, don’t trust anyone who says briefly):
I wish Silas Rhodes could be here. But wherever you are, thanks for all your faith in me and the opportunities you’ve given me during the 30 plus years I’ve been involved with SVA.
Thank you David Rhodes for your total encouragement, support and generosity. I want to thank you from my heart for making this adjustment period when I transitioned from one truly wonderful job at the New York Times, which I held for 33 years, to another remarkable one at SVA, so free of angst.
Thanks Tony Rhodes, for your good will, good baseball tickets, and good humor and a great idea when we started MFA Design, that students should bring their own computers.
By the way, if working for SVA is not the best of fortunes I don’t know what is.
And speaking of good fortune, for the past ten years I’ve been incredibly privileged to work side by side, and now office by office, with Lita Talarico. There are so many things I can say about our amazing collaboration, which has given me such pride, but for now, suffice to say it would be totally impossible for me to have done an iota of this without you.
In 1974 Louis Silverstein plucked me from the lap Screw magazine to be art director of the OpEd page of the NY Times. He’s not here tonight, but he has my enduring gratitude. But my boss and friend, Tom Bodkin, asst. managing editor and design director of the Times is here with some my Times colleagues, and to him I am indebted for making my stay at the Times so satisfying, rewarding, and fun. The Times is blessed to have him, and I’ve been blessed to work with him.
There’s more (so bare with me):
How lucky I was to meet Marshall Arisman when I was a 19-year-old student at SVA. If he hadn’t expelled me, I wouldn’t be here today.
Speaking of being anywhere today, if I hadn’t put an ad for artists in the Village Voice, which resulted in meeting Brad Holland, my life would have taken a totally different course. Its hard to conceive.
If I hadn’t decided to rebel against the dominance of Push Pin Studios early in my career, I would never have meet its co-founder Seymour Chwast, my best friend, with whom I’ve done so many books and publications, and continue to do so.
If I hadn’t met Steven Guarnaccia when he was a wee tot, with whom I’ve produced a number of books, I don’t think the idea for this exhibition would have been hatched.
As I look out at these tables, there are so many others I’ve worked with, without whom I simply cannot imagine what the present (or the future) would be like.
Some of my book collaborators are filmed for the exhibit on those massive video screens. Others are here in the flesh. Thanks to them all: Mirko Ilic, Veronique Vienne, Gail Anderson, Michael Barson, Michael Bierut, Vicki Gold Levi, David Womack, Julie Lasky Teresa Fernandes, and Anne Fink.
A few of my extremely patient and supportive book editors and publishers are also here. Thanks for putting up with my incessant proposals, Tad Crawford, Eric Himmel, and Margaret Cummins.
And a few of my magazine editors are here too. Its been such a pleasure to work with Joyce Rutter Kaye at Print and Julie Lasky at I.D. I only wish Marty Fox formerly of Print, who I worked with for over 20 years could be here tonight.
David Rhodes has encouraged me to develop programs at SVA, and I am very pleased to be working some very talented people, notably Alice Twemlow, the chair of the MFA in Design Criticism, which will launch next Fall.
Almost finally, Thanks to those who have worked so diligently on all aspects of the Masters experience. My dear friend Paula Scher, who is in Cuba tonight, produced the catalog and main images. Ralph Caplan wrote that amazing catalog essay. Adria I don’t know how this could be done without you. Hillman Curtis for the great illustrators video, and Joe Griffith for all the podcasts he’s produced. Amanda Spielman who made the interior exhibition graphics. Louis Egnasko, you’ve been rock solid during this entire thing and I am so appreciative. Michael Walsh, your selfless generosity has been above and beyond. Francis Ditomasso, from that first letter acknowledging this event, you’ve been such a supporter. Also thank you so much to Esther Ro Scofield, Brian Smith, Michael Grant, Samatha Hoover, Laura Yeffeth, Jesicca Hale, Josh Hester, Paige Freeman, and Lara McCormick.
Tips of the hat to Rick Landers Colleen Miller, who produced and maintain my website.
Also I want to thank all our MFA Design faculty members who are here tonight. Maira Kalman, Bonnie Siegler, Jeff Scher, Stephen Doyle, Martin Kace, Dorothy Globus, Veronique Vienne. And those who are not, Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Howard Reeves, Paola Antonelli, Scott Stowell, Nicholas Callaway, Brian Collins, Ken Carbone, and more.
Thanks to my folks, who are here tonight, and my uncle Walter Metzger.
Finally, but only finally for dramatic effect: I have no greater indebtedness than to Louise Fili, my wife and collaborator. We’ve not only produced over two dozen books together – and now she’s writing her own books on Italy – we produced our son, Nick, who came down from his college in Boston especially for tonight. YOU are our proudest feat.
To the rest of you: Thanks for being here, thanks for your support and friendship. But one last thing for the future:
As you leave, please don’t knock over the coin. I’m not ready for it to end yet.
Are Steven Heller
by Ralph Caplan
How Does He Do It?
by Lita Talarico
by Steven Heller
On The Masters Exhibition
by David Rhodes