Jessica Helfand | Essays

Certificate of Approval

My father acquired this print (and several more like it) in a collection he bought from the estate of a friend in France: a certificate of approval for a pharmaceutical product, combining official stamps, labels, and signatures — a visual testament to the due diligence of a battalion of government bureaucrats who were, one can only assume, its intended audience.

It is, of course, so much more than this — a composition of stunning modernity, especially given that it was produced at the end of the nineteenth century. The print is dated 1889 — the same year that marked the Exposition Universelle in Paris, the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower and the opening of the Moulin Rouge. (Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889, too.) A good quarter-century before Saul Steinberg would begin making his mixed media collages, this stunning piece of graphic design gestures at once to the formality of the past and the uncertainty of its future: centered and serious, yet marginally askew and surprisingly dynamic, it’s both classical and modern. It may just be my favorite thing, ever.

The above text is an excerpt from the book I Heart Design (Rockport 2011), the book features eighty different designers, writing about their favorite piece of design. This excerpt appears here with the publishers permission.

Cover of I Heart Design, edited by Steven Heller and published by Rockport (2011)

Posted in: Graphic Design, Media

Comments [1]

It looks like Steven Heller has come up with another winner with I Heart Design. I like Debbie Millman’s selection. “When it rains it pours.” The Morton Salt umbrella girl, 1951
Carl W. Smith

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