Is it the fate of graphic designers to be anonymous? Not all of them, granted, because we have adopted a few as folk heroes. Our own Design Museum celebrated Alan Fletcher a few years ago, alongside Robert Brownjohn. Fletcher was a character and also, in his later years, author of that great brick-like book, The Art of Looking Sideways, one of the best ways in to understanding graphic design as a mental process. Brownjohn died young and did film titles for James Bond movies – two useful hooks for the memory. Ivan Chermayeff was their friend and contemporary, and their equal as a designer – indeed his first partnership in New York in the 1950s included Brownjohn – but the Chermayeff name has not been carried back across the ocean to Britain, the country where he was born 82 years ago, and few outside the professional field know his work, in contrast to America where he has long been seen as one of the greats, in conjunction with his business partner of over 50 years, Tom Geismar.
Now the De La Warr Pavilion is redressing this neglect with the first British exhibition about Ivan Chermayeff (19 June to 14 September). If that association between the building and the designer’s name rings a bell, it is because Ivan’s father, the self-taught Russian émigré architect Serge Chermayeff was co-designer of the Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea with Erich Mendelsohn, winning the competition in 1934 and delivering the dazzling white liner at the end of 1935, five years before he emigrated to the USA and a new career in teaching. To add to the generational layering, Ivan’s son Sam practices architecture in Berlin and New York with Johanna Meyer-Grohbügge as June 14, named after the date when they set up after working together with SANAA in Japan. They have contributed the installation design for the De La Warr show.