Judaism, Rebranded

The Jewish Museum of New York takes on a new look for its future.

Sagmeister & Walsh

What’s in a look?

For a museum, everything. Which is why The Jewish Museum of New York embarked on a two-year campaign to update theirs with a new “graphic identity” encompassing their website, logo and print materials within and out of the museum. In other words, their “brand.”

The two-year project was redesigned by Sagmeister & Walsh, with top designer Stefan Sagmeister, who has created signature album covers for Lou Reed, Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones and OK Go, and executed ad campaigns for major companies such as HBO and Levi’s.

“Claudia [Gould, the museum director] approached us to create a branding that paid homage to the history and tradition, and I think you can see that quite heavily in the branding − the concept came from a place of tradition but feels different,” says Jessica Walsh, partner in the New York City design firm, known for their experimental typography and striking visual imagery.

Their concept for The Jewish Museum’s new graphic identity is based on the concept of “sacred geometry,” the idea that geometric shapes have a sacred, symbolic or spiritual meaning behind them. Historically, these sacred shapes have been used for the construction of religious structures.

So the Jewish Museum’s new pointy script logo stems from the concept of the six-point Jewish star, as is its truncated logo “JM,” which is housed in a hexagon. (Watch a video of the logo’s genesis here: http://vimeo.com/92978367). The royal blue color of the digital materials is reminiscent of tekhelet, the biblical blue dye used in the High Priest’s clothing, tziztiot (tassels on ceremonial garments) and tallit (payer shawl) fringes in the Torah. (Today tekhelet in Hebrew is defined as sky blue, but in ancient times was thought to have been indigo or midnight blue.)

“How the identity looks does speak a lot of what you want to portray to the outside world: desirable, sophisticated, intimate and inclusive,” says Gould, the Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director. She came to the museum two and a half years ago and undertook the redesign, which she says hadn’t been changed in 20 years.

“The new identity does not discard the past at all, but is also contemporary enough to look to the future,” she added.

The new website will be unveiled in June for its first redesign since 1997. (You can see parts of the website here.) Not only has it been updated to optimize new technologies, such as being streamlined for cellphones and tablets and offering video content and online-only exhibitions, but it will also give users access to the museum’s collection, which features more than 3,000 objects (some 10 percent of the collection). Their goal is to increase the online collection to at least 20,000 works in the next five years.

Founded in 1904 with just 26 objects, the Jewish Museum’s mission is dedicated to the exploration of art and ideas of the artistic and cultural heritage of the Jews. Located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum maintains a collection of over 30,000 works of art and artifacts. The exhibits seek to answer two questions: How have the Jewish people been able to thrive for thousands of years, often in difficult and even tragic circumstances? And what constitutes the essence of Jewish identity?

Its permanent exhibition, “Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey” uses 800 works of art − including paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, installation and decorative arts, antiquities and media − to tell the story of the Jewish people, “a truly universal story: at once ancient and modern, global and local, material and spiritual,” according to the mission statement.

Most museums today face similar challenges. “Today, the world is changing faster than ever. New technology delivers new ideas, gigabytes of information, news of an increasingly unstable climate, all shared by social media. Modern museums must compete for an audible voice against the furious pace of this background,” Gould added.

“Museums in a Changing World” is an initiative by International Museum Day, which was established in 1977 by The International Council of Museums (ICOM) to encourage public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society. International Museum Day is held annually on May 18.

The Jewish Museum, like most museums − and many Jewish organizations − faces the challenge of attracting the next generation. “We’re all in the same boat − we’re trying to attract a cross-generation of supporters,” Gould says.

But can a new “graphic identity” do this?

Gould says that since her tenure began they have been making changes to the museum itself, such as redesigning the lobby, pulling up the carpeting to expose the hardwood floors and removing the “dreary” brown cloth from the walls to make it more vibrant.

The programming also reflects this: Upcoming educational programs include talks like “Is the Internet bad for us?,” a summer concert with Bang on a Can, an international organization dedicated to making music new, and the regular series AM at the JM, a monthly breakfast salon at cafes around the city. This in addition to current exhibits, which include, “Masterpieces & Curiosities: Diane Arbus’s Jewish Giant,” “Mel Bochner: Strong Language,” about the artist’s career-long fascination with the cerebral and visual associations of words, and “Other Primary Structures,” featuring sculptures by artists working in the 1960s around the world.

The graphic redesign of the logo, print materials and website is just another way to showcase the museum’s changing direction. “It’s a process,” Gould says. “It takes a long time to change things.”

Sagmeister & Walsh