John C Jay

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The future is just getting started.

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The future is just getting started.


The DJ’s music grew in volume and pulse as the crowd surged forward.

Suddenly a massive ornate three story theater unveils itself. The upper level balcony and mezzanine lookouts are filled with dancing silhouettes above our heads. There is a powerful moment of deja-vu with memories of the legendary Studio 54, not because this is a club but because like 54, this was a defining cultural moment for a great American city. More importantly, for some of us, it was also a deeply personal moment.

I had just entered into another man’s dream… the vision of the late Alex Calderwood. His grand vision had become a pulsating reality and its cultural beat will change Los Angeles. Tonight was the premiere of his Ace Downtown L.A.

I write tonight with an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for a great friend, Alex Calderwood, the co-founder of the Ace Hotels who passed away in London on November 14, 2013 at age 47. It is a bittersweet moment, to celebrate the latest achievement of one of the greatest Creative Directors I have ever worked with in any industry. I used to tell Calvin Klein in the 80’s, that he was the most influential Creative Director of the times, with a vision and influence far beyond the fashion industry. Similarly, Alex had an uncanny feel for the pulse of contemporary society and he put that intuition to use by bringing new ideas and people together, changing entire blocks and neighborhoods in Seattle, Portland, New York City, Palm Springs, London and now downtown Los Angeles.

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Discussions with Alex and his team were never about what was trending, ideas behind each hotel never started with marketing or simply cool design. The narrative usually would come from a personal truth, an important social or cultural insight. The conversations were at once local and global, merging ideas from the youth who rule the street, with rigorous debates over architecture and the potential contribution and affect on neighborhoods. To Alex, the overlap of the hardware and software, the building and its events, was inseparable as he shaped the world through his role for the company as Ace’s Cultural Engineer.

While the creation of a unique point of view was inevitable, the process remained organic, always based on the humanity of people, the way they wanted to live and share, how they could inspire each other. The founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Chip Conley, described Alex well, “He had an uncanny knack of creating spaces where people felt a sense of belonging.” 

For Alex, hotels were art projects infused with all the disciplines of good business. His dream was to always evolve the Ace concept as it moved into different global neighborhoods and time zones, while always protecting the company’s guiding principles. He and I spoke about this a lot, often late into the night online from different parts of the world.

This summer, we walked through the gardens of the Nezu Museum in the midst of the Aoyama area of Tokyo. He marveled at the simplicity and finesse of architect, Kengo Kuma and his ability to design amongst the trees with a sense of modernity that connected to the feeling of the great Northwest which influenced Alex so deeply. He remained fearless in his dreams, but not all agreed, and those who didn’t, missed out on the ride of their lives. 

He tackled the greatest enemy of quality and longevity head-on… company growth. Alex knew that without an intelligent plan for expanding his horizons, Ace would never experience new things in life. Like any great Creative Director, he made those all around him better at what they do, he lifted our collective bar of excellence through his inspiration and personal sacrifice. It was never about Alex.

In fact, Alex’s greatest advantage was his lack of ego. Today, we live in an age of celebrated flawed leaders where the social value of success, whether it be based on fame, money, or even creativity… asks us to overlook obnoxious behavior. So called “genius” allows high powered people to be jerks, to disrespect, to humiliate, to put themselves above all others all in the name of success. Postmodern management and short term memory allows us to believe that the end justifies the means and such behavior today permeates the board rooms of some of America’s most influential establishments.

My description of Alex as one of our greatest Creative Directors was the fact that he was a giant mentor to new generation of young talent; often those who did not fit into the expectations of the status-quo. Thus, his greatest legacy may not be his hotels but in the organization he has built. Through the Ace team, Alex’s greatest work is yet to come… these extraordinary believers and talented management teams now take over the reins of leadership and inspiration, each carrying the vision of Alex Calderwood forward.

Ace Downtown Los Angeles represents a culmination of all of Alex’s experiences in creating an exciting cultural experience. The Ace in L.A. will be a creative and social catalyst born in the same spirit of non-conformity. Its hotel tower of rooms is fused with the former United Artists Theater built by the then rebels of the Hollywood system, Mary Pickford, DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and a slightly reluctant Charlie Chaplin. Premiering in 1927, the UA Theater with Mary Pickford’s original private screening room below the main theater, is a symbol for personal self-expression and the perfect stage for the next level of creative achievement of the Ace.

Alex Calderwood taught us all to constantly dream, to have confidence in our most challenging ideas and to have a will to make our vision into reality. That is the eternal power of Alex… he made us all believe.

Thank you Alex for inspiring me to be a better Creative Director and to dare to dream beyond my means. Through you, the future is just getting started.


John C Jay

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Akitip magazine; Alex Calderwood and John Jay were co-editors and creative directors of the 0053X issue.

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Spread from Arkitip Issue 0053X: Dong Wei x Huang Wei Don.

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John Jay and Alex Calderwood working on Arkitip Issue 0053X in Studio J.

“Here’s to the Crazy Ones.”

Legends are hard to come by these days.
There is no shortage of famous people. The idea of “influencers” has lost its real meaning along with “friends” in these contemporary times. Having large followings on Twitter are now a criteria for fame. True legends however, are beyond media and they are larger than fame.

I don’t really do the advertising speaking or judging circuit, but this was the 60th anniversary of Cannes Advertising Awards and Lee Clow, the legendary creative director of TBWA was being honored, receiving the Lion of St. Mark. Only John Hegarty and Dan Wieden had received this prestigious award previously. Despite our many mutual friends, my years in the agency business and the lively rivalry between our agencies, I had never met Lee… so I had to go to Cannes.

Ten years ago on the 50th anniversary of the Cannes Advertising Festival, Dan Wieden made a rare appearance and served as the President of the Jury while creating the prestigious Titanium Award for innovation. True to our roots, Wieden+Kennedy refused to host the typical client/agency party during the week.

Instead, I rented an empty Olympic sized swimming pool behind a casino that also had seen better days. I transformed the empty pool into a skate park surrounded by cars found in a local junk yard. Street artists from NYC and Paris painted each car while DJ’s from Tokyo, London and NYC performed their music to the action of the skaters. Hundreds came but of course, the police eventually shut us down.

Here’s to the crazy ones… thank you Lee for the inspiration and thanks for showing us that real legends still exist.

John C Jay

 

John Jay arrives to meet Lee Clow, 2013.

Hifana plays at W+K Party in Cannes, 2003.

David Ellis paints cars at the party, 2003.

W+K Art Cars loaded up in Cannes, 2003.

 

Who’s “Primitive” now?

How creative people see the world today and the respect we give to other cultures was profoundly changed by the act of a very brilliant if unassuming man. The world of art lost a champion and an intellectual heavyweight fighter who won through the power of words, with the passing of Thomas McEvilley on March 2, 2013.  McEvilley, an art critic and author was founder of the M.F.A. criticism and art writing program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.  The New York Times wrote, “In the lingering wake of 1960’s formalist thinking dominated by Clement Greenberg and Minimalism, Mr. McEvilley was a crucial alternative voice. He demonstrated that abstraction was not a European invention, pointing to non-western abstraction art from Hindu Tantric painting to African masks to Islamic tile work.”

 

On September 27, 1984; the Museum of Modern Art opened one of the most ambitious exhibitions of its time, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” to positive reviews by the media. People Magazine headline exclaimed, “In a Magical Manhattan Exhibit, MOMA Curator William Rubin Brings Primitivism Right Up to Date.” Clearly, this was an all-star cast of curators, venue and sponsors with Picasso’s work headlining the show. William Rubin, the Director of Department of Painting and Sculpture collaborated with then Professor Kirk Varnedoe of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University as the show’s curators. Corporate sponsorship came from Phillip Morris Inc and public support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition however, sparked a spectacular philosophical battle of words between the show’s curators and McEvilley in a series of exchanges in Artforum magazine. McEvilley took on not only the show and its curators but MOMA itself and its Euro-centric bias towards Modernism and delivered a one-sided knock-out punch that forever changed how we understand the origins of contemporary art and abstract ideas. Critic, Jerry Salz in his column on Vulture.com wrote, “In a series of brilliantly reasoned scathing letters to the editor of Artforum, McEvilley blasted MOMA, all museums of modern art, and the entire art-historical infrastructure as it then existed. His claim, which was then correct, was that Europeans and American art history was using third world art and artists as footnotes to Western art history without recognizing the primacy of these formal cultures.” 

McEvilley’s enlightenment gave us a preview of a new America we live in today, where multi-culturalism has become a part of our social and political life, challenging all sides to be more ethnically and philosophically aware. His strong alternative voice gave respect and truth to ideas that had been suppressed by a Western elitism camouflaged in our education and social practices, affecting all aspects of society.

McEvilley’s life-work is a reminder to all of us who work in creative fields such as advertising, communications and design, that it is our job to see the world with greater cultural empathy and deeper understanding. It is our responsibility to grow our experiences and skills to better relate and communicate with a broader audience and consumers. It is our job to question.

As globalism continues to spread its wings, as brands earn new status with their international impact and cultural influence; we as creative professionals who help to position these companies must develop better skills in being able to place ideas in the proper cultural context. As creatives, we must stop judging the world through our own narrow lens and better understand how other cultures live, work and perceive the world.

Thomas McEvilley studied Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, he taught courses in Greek and South Asian culture, as well history of religion and philosophy.

He was well-prepared for the world we live in now, a global society connected by technology and creative ideas. He offered us insight into the importance of real human connection and personal experiences. In an age where having instant information is often confused with real knowledge, the power of creativity rests in our ability to develop ideas with cultural understanding learned from life rather than search engines.

One of the important skills of any creative person is the development of cultural empathy, to create with a sense of openness and responsibility. More than ever, it is important for creative people to be curious and connected to those forces that influence the world. It is critical to think and live outside of our professional cliques and social comfort zones.

Thomas McEvilley’s life changed the art world and beyond.  By debunking cultural and academic elitism, he prepared us for a more networked world. He made us more enlightened as creative people, he gave us a bigger lens to see our world. More than ever, we need to encourage alternative voices such as his, in order to keep us all honest.

Thank you, Thomas McEvilley for helping us to be truly modern.

— John C Jay

 

 

Books by Thomas McEvilley:

“Art and Otherness: Crisis in Cultural Identity” (1992)

“Art and Discontent: Theory at the Millennium” (1991)

“The Triumph of Anti-Art: Conceptual and Performance Art in the Formation of Post-Modernism” (2005)

Mar 4
Searching for the Avant-GardeSly Stone’s delicious voice ruled the radio airwaves, “Everyday People” was the number 1 song but giving way soon to a new Aquarius as the Fifth Dimension harmonized about change in the air. 1969 was going to be one of the most radical years in our modern history. It was the year that changed America.I am a young student with no perceivable direction, no idea about design or creative career yet, just dreaming to be somewhere bigger than my own existence in Columbus Ohio. I could always sense that there was a more dynamic world out there, a place where people arrived daily because they had a similar itch to experience life at its fullest. A place that nurtured ambition and the desire for the unknown. For me, my future was unclear but my old world intuition inherited from my parents told me that the skills you learned in school could only take you so far. Yet, to dream bigger than your friends was not something you did openly back then. But dream I did.Prophetically, the big summer movie is Phillip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus”.Then it hit me. The May 1969 issue of Esquire Magazine arrives in the school library. The headline boldly declares, “The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Avant-Garde.” The cover captures Andy Warhol drowning in a huge can of Campbell Soup. Despite the headline, the genius of art director, George Lois made the Esquire cover each month, his own version of the avant-garde. Highly conceptual, in tune with the cultural zeitgeist and challenging the norms of society, he made Esquire covers into social commentary built with the craft of a great artist and matching intellectual rigor. Lois motivated us to think about our world in context of our existence. Like the art world’s avant-garde, he used consumerism, a magazine cover designed to sell, to raise the consciousness of the American public. He saw himself as an artist and throughout his career from editorial to advertising, he remained fearless. He was an artist and he didn’t care whether you thought so or not.On his iconic Warhol cover, Lois comments, “You could look at it as just funny, or you could look at it as how fame swallows people — the absurdity of fame. He is drowning in his own soup.”Years later… I arrive in New York City, in search of this avant-garde… was I too late? Was it over? My search was for a modern day Atlantis, a place where the extraordinary was everyday and its people equally mythical. I soon learned the city’s little secret… It was not just about ideas… It was about hard work, NYC was a place filled with determined dreamers, doers and makers, and like me, they often came from another place. What bonded us was our ambition and willingness to fight for the right to be creative, to be the best we could be. But clearly, dreaming alone was not going to be enough. Human nature causes us to place great value on what others think of us, they try to define what success looks like for us. Society’s opinion can charge the course of our lives but that is the antithesis of being fearless.The avant-garde was going through its own growing pains and the critics panned its embrace of fame and fortune but the movement kept morphing. Its goals and tactics changed through corporate sponsorship, globalism, technology and the life-changing influence of the next generation. Mass media brought art to the threshold of glamour and power but the mundane always had its own power over even the most gifted. I remember having lunch at Robert Rauschenberg’s studio with him in the kitchen as he watched the daytime soaps. He knew every character and dazzled us with his appreciation of the lurid details of each daily episode. As I roamed the vast studio looking, turning each painting on a revolving rack, Rauschenberg could be heard moaning in the background because todays show was ending with an unsatisfactory ending but he knew tomorrow was a new day. It always is.The Warhol Foundation will soon sell all of its artwork in order to operate fully as a grant foundation offering financial support for future generations of artists. That will cause havoc with all of those who have invested heavily in his legacy and the future value of his art. 26 years after his death, Andy Warhol continues to the most avant-garde of them all.Fast forward from my initial arrival to NYC to 2011 at a glittering black-tie event in Manhattan, it is the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame annual celebration. George Lois enthusiastically congratulates me on my induction into this extraordinary group of creative talent. Lois claims he told the jury, “This is a no-brainer.” I just hope he was speaking of my induction and not me personally! He is the youngest inductee ever into the Hall of Fame and the designer of the award itself. I stood there thinking back as a kid, and that Esquire cover in my hands. The next morning, I pull out my first edition of his book, “The Art of Advertising”. At the time of its publication, I was a young editorial art director trying to make it in journalism and this primer on mass communications laid the foundation for me on how the big idea was possible is all forms of creative expression… from magazines to fashion to advertising. Lois’s version of the Big Idea is still growing within all of us and his impatience with mediocrity remains infectious.John C Jay Art Directors Club 2011Last week, I received an email from a designer in San Francisco, who is a former recipient of my Jay Scholarship Fund at Ohio State University. It is a survey from Graphic Design USA’s January/February issue. The headline reads “The Most Influential Art Directors of the Past 50 Years” and George Lois, deservedly tops the list. However, as I drift down the list, I am astonished to see my name on it as well. This is far beyond anything I ever dreamed… to be on a list with George Lois. It is Graphic Design USA’s own 50th anniversary and they celebrated by naming the most influential companies and people in the past 50 years in design and advertising.Graphic Design USA 50th Anniversary What I love about Lois’s Esquire decade, 1962 to 72, as the magazine cover maestro was that Esquire was his moonlighting job. His night job created an extraordinary body of work, 32 of 92 covers were exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art in 2008. As his day job, he ran an ad agency with some of the most important clients in the country. His ability to think and work creatively on so many levels at once is an inspiration and shows us all how passion can take you to new places if you are willing to make sacrifices for the big idea in any media. We have a responsibility to constantly raise the creative bar and to do so, we must find more ways to be fearless.I am still searching for the avant-garde. So I have just opened W+K Garage, a new creative shop that will work with innovative global clients but also as an entrepreneur in different forms of creative expression. It was time to resist the obvious, reject what others may feel is success, do work that is truly personal and help those in search of a more creative future. We live in the most creative moment in history and the future is just beginning. There is no turning back.Bracket — W+K Garage
Thank you George Lois for helping all of us to overcome our own fears. Your legacy is actually just beginning.— John C Jay

Searching for the Avant-Garde

Sly Stone’s delicious voice ruled the radio airwaves, “Everyday People” was the number 1 song but giving way soon to a new Aquarius as the Fifth Dimension harmonized about change in the air. 1969 was going to be one of the most radical years in our modern history. It was the year that changed America.

I am a young student with no perceivable direction, no idea about design or creative career yet, just dreaming to be somewhere bigger than my own existence in Columbus Ohio. I could always sense that there was a more dynamic world out there, a place where people arrived daily because they had a similar itch to experience life at its fullest. A place that nurtured ambition and the desire for the unknown. For me, my future was unclear but my old world intuition inherited from my parents told me that the skills you learned in school could only take you so far. Yet, to dream bigger than your friends was not something you did openly back then. But dream I did.

Prophetically, the big summer movie is Phillip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus”.

Then it hit me. The May 1969 issue of Esquire Magazine arrives in the school library. The headline boldly declares, “The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Avant-Garde.” The cover captures Andy Warhol drowning in a huge can of Campbell Soup. Despite the headline, the genius of art director, George Lois made the Esquire cover each month, his own version of the avant-garde. Highly conceptual, in tune with the cultural zeitgeist and challenging the norms of society, he made Esquire covers into social commentary built with the craft of a great artist and matching intellectual rigor. Lois motivated us to think about our world in context of our existence. Like the art world’s avant-garde, he used consumerism, a magazine cover designed to sell, to raise the consciousness of the American public. He saw himself as an artist and throughout his career from editorial to advertising, he remained fearless. He was an artist and he didn’t care whether you thought so or not.

On his iconic Warhol cover, Lois comments, “You could look at it as just funny, or you could look at it as how fame swallows people — the absurdity of fame. He is drowning in his own soup.”

Years later… I arrive in New York City, in search of this avant-garde… was I too late? Was it over? My search was for a modern day Atlantis, a place where the extraordinary was everyday and its people equally mythical. I soon learned the city’s little secret… It was not just about ideas… It was about hard work, NYC was a place filled with determined dreamers, doers and makers, and like me, they often came from another place. What bonded us was our ambition and willingness to fight for the right to be creative, to be the best we could be. But clearly, dreaming alone was not going to be enough. Human nature causes us to place great value on what others think of us, they try to define what success looks like for us. Society’s opinion can charge the course of our lives but that is the antithesis of being fearless.

The avant-garde was going through its own growing pains and the critics panned its embrace of fame and fortune but the movement kept morphing. Its goals and tactics changed through corporate sponsorship, globalism, technology and the life-changing influence of the next generation. Mass media brought art to the threshold of glamour and power but the mundane always had its own power over even the most gifted. I remember having lunch at Robert Rauschenberg’s studio with him in the kitchen as he watched the daytime soaps. He knew every character and dazzled us with his appreciation of the lurid details of each daily episode. As I roamed the vast studio looking, turning each painting on a revolving rack, Rauschenberg could be heard moaning in the background because todays show was ending with an unsatisfactory ending but he knew tomorrow was a new day. It always is.

The Warhol Foundation will soon sell all of its artwork in order to operate fully as a grant foundation offering financial support for future generations of artists. That will cause havoc with all of those who have invested heavily in his legacy and the future value of his art. 26 years after his death, Andy Warhol continues to the most avant-garde of them all.

Fast forward from my initial arrival to NYC to 2011 at a glittering black-tie event in Manhattan, it is the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame annual celebration. George Lois enthusiastically congratulates me on my induction into this extraordinary group of creative talent. Lois claims he told the jury, “This is a no-brainer.” I just hope he was speaking of my induction and not me personally! He is the youngest inductee ever into the Hall of Fame and the designer of the award itself. I stood there thinking back as a kid, and that Esquire cover in my hands. The next morning, I pull out my first edition of his book, “The Art of Advertising”. At the time of its publication, I was a young editorial art director trying to make it in journalism and this primer on mass communications laid the foundation for me on how the big idea was possible is all forms of creative expression… from magazines to fashion to advertising. Lois’s version of the Big Idea is still growing within all of us and his impatience with mediocrity remains infectious.

John C Jay Art Directors Club 2011

Last week, I received an email from a designer in San Francisco, who is a former recipient of my Jay Scholarship Fund at Ohio State University. It is a survey from Graphic Design USA’s January/February issue. The headline reads “The Most Influential Art Directors of the Past 50 Years” and George Lois, deservedly tops the list. However, as I drift down the list, I am astonished to see my name on it as well. This is far beyond anything I ever dreamed… to be on a list with George Lois. It is Graphic Design USA’s own 50th anniversary and they celebrated by naming the most influential companies and people in the past 50 years in design and advertising.

Graphic Design USA 50th Anniversary 

What I love about Lois’s Esquire decade, 1962 to 72, as the magazine cover maestro was that Esquire was his moonlighting job. His night job created an extraordinary body of work, 32 of 92 covers were exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art in 2008. As his day job, he ran an ad agency with some of the most important clients in the country. His ability to think and work creatively on so many levels at once is an inspiration and shows us all how passion can take you to new places if you are willing to make sacrifices for the big idea in any media. We have a responsibility to constantly raise the creative bar and to do so, we must find more ways to be fearless.

I am still searching for the avant-garde. So I have just opened W+K Garage, a new creative shop that will work with innovative global clients but also as an entrepreneur in different forms of creative expression. It was time to resist the obvious, reject what others may feel is success, do work that is truly personal and help those in search of a more creative future. We live in the most creative moment in history and the future is just beginning. There is no turning back.

Bracket — W+K Garage

Thank you George Lois for helping all of us to overcome our own fears. Your legacy is actually just beginning.


— John C Jay

“Free Yourself”
One of the most inspired and challenging messages I have ever received.
It came directly to me from Dan Wieden, our visionary leader and co-founder of Wieden + Kennedy during a conversation on  how I could best impact the continued evolution of this already very innovative agency.
We as creative people often use our soap box to challenge our clients to be more brave, to embrace risk…yet often, the painful truth is that creative people, my beloved peers, are often the least willing to take those risks personally. I too fear the status-quo… but it is my own status-quo that concerns me the most, those walls of resistance or fear that keep me from daring to do what I know is best or right. The truth is usually provocative.
Our most important  responsibility is to ourselves…to  be the best we can possibly be. No one else can fulfill that destiny for us. It is our job 1. Only then can we protect and help others.
So imagine an entire company built on that premise, an ethos built not on selfishness but on sacrifice, a highly successful business that protects the humanity and individuality of its people. A place where creativity is a religion and ambition is anchored by integrity.
So Dan’s message to me was to be the creative person that made me happiest and that power will benefit the agency. These are remarkable times for Wieden + Kennedy.
 I should know because I just traded a corner office for a “garage”.
 Free yourself.
 John C Jay 
Creativity:
http://creativity-online.com/news/john-jay-launches-wk-garage/239083

“Free Yourself”

One of the most inspired and challenging messages I have ever received.

It came directly to me from Dan Wieden, our visionary leader and co-founder of Wieden + Kennedy during a conversation on  how I could best impact the continued evolution of this already very innovative agency.

We as creative people often use our soap box to challenge our clients to be more brave, to embrace risk…yet often, the painful truth is that creative people, my beloved peers, are often the least willing to take those risks personally. I too fear the status-quo… but it is my own status-quo that concerns me the most, those walls of resistance or fear that keep me from daring to do what I know is best or right. The truth is usually provocative.

Our most important  responsibility is to ourselves…to  be the best we can possibly be. No one else can fulfill that destiny for us. It is our job 1. Only then can we protect and help others.

So imagine an entire company built on that premise, an ethos built not on selfishness but on sacrifice, a highly successful business that protects the humanity and individuality of its people. A place where creativity is a religion and ambition is anchored by integrity.

So Dan’s message to me was to be the creative person that made me happiest and that power will benefit the agency. These are remarkable times for Wieden + Kennedy.

 I should know because I just traded a corner office for a “garage”.

 Free yourself.

 John C Jay 


Creativity:

http://creativity-online.com/news/john-jay-launches-wk-garage/239083

The Eye Has to Travel

The lights from the Temple of Dendur glowed in the sky as if the Egyptian night was outside the windows. I wander from room to room in Diane Von Furstenberg’s spectacular apartment on Fifth Ave. facing the Metropolitan Museum. A group of men in suits sat quietly listening to a petite woman perched on a low ottoman, they were transfixed by her vibrant descriptions of the world delivered in a distinctly raspy voice. I eavesdrop carefully on arguably the greatest fashion editor we have ever known. Dianna Vreeland was a powerful force in culture, a visionary for Vogue Magazine and later as the director of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum. From her legendary pages in Vogue and Harpers Bazaar to her costume exhibitions, Vreeland was America’s great story teller with uncanny ability to tap into the zeitgeist of America. She was the original cultural DJ, mixing art, music, literature, fashion and youth with a resounding pop in culture. Her life story, her rise, then fall and heroic rise again is both a cautionary and inspiring lesson for us all. Staying relevant is a lifetime job.

“The Eye Has to Travel” is a revealing documentary featuring one of the most colorful characters in fashion history, an editor unlike anyone in publishing today. Vreeland was larger than life, so when she was fired at the height of her fame by Vogue’s legendary Editorial Director, Alexander Lieberman, it brought one of the most creative eras in fashion editorial to an end. The sensibilities of American women were shifting and Vogue was suddenly fighting for relevancy. It was a time when the modern American woman began to adjust her priorities, like today… a new normal was emerging.

My life changed through the influence of magazines, so the title of the film resonated with me instantly. As an art director and graphic designer originally trained in print and editorial in NYC, “making the eye travel” around the page was a fundamental skill of an editor/designer team. This was the magic created through provocative relationships between image and words, the artistry of typography, story-telling at its classic best and movement in 2-D. 

My love of magazines began years earlier when, as a naïve college student, I used to write reviews of each issue of GQ to the editor. It was my way of rebelling and expanding my limited horizons, feeling stifled in school with the rigid world of Swiss design… void of emotion and personal expression. 4 years of Helvetica or Universe type as a design major had me yearning for more than discipline and grid formats. In my senior year at Ohio State, I received a letter from GQ offering me a job as an editorial assistant without an interview or meeting. It was my most exhilarating moment in college, bigger than graduation but for personal reasons, I sadly had to decline the offer.

The fashion business has exploded globally, the top magazines still thrive during this time of diminishing print media…a time when local newspapers and nation magazines are becoming digital only. The culture of fashion has become big business and nightly entertainment on television. Reality shows offer competitions to discover new designers and the once behind the scene stylist has become a star for giving clueless actors a sense of style on the important red carpet of media. Teen bloggers are now routinely sitting in the front rows of international fashion shows. Today, everyone is a critic and curator.

Yet today, there is no Dianna Vreeland. There is no magazine like her Vogue. There are no pages like her original Harpers Bazaar pages. There are many new independent fashion magazines, each striving to be more avant-garde than the other. Yet still there is no D.V.

The legendary London photographer, David Bailey, known not only for his iconic pictures and beautiful wives including Catherine Denueve, Penelope Tree and Marie Helvin, used to tell me his favorite Vreeland stories. Once, he was sent on one of Vreeland’s extravagant shoots, taking beautiful models to work with the French Foreign Legion. After an amazing week in an exotic location with the models, the food and wine of the French army; he returns to New York where he see Vreeland at a party. Vreeland shouts, “Bailey… welcome back, how are the pictures?” Bailey suddenly realizes, “Damn, I knew I forgot to do something.” Those were the days.

“The Eye has to Travel” is filled with iconic characters of fashion society and history but the absence of key members of Conde Nast was puzzling. After the all-powerful Editorial Director, Alexander Lieberman fired Vreeland without a personal meeting, Vreeland was exasperated, “I have met many Russians in my life, white Russians, red Russians but I have never met a yellow Russian before!”

While I had established myself as Creative Director at Bloomingdale’s during their heyday in the 80’s, the magazine world continued to inspire and influence me. Despite his firing of Vreeland, Lieberman was also a hero to me, he held court at Conde Nast where he worked for 58 years. He was an accomplished painter and sculptor who modernized the concept of American magazines. The first time he invited me to talk about a position at Conde Nast, I was inspired to see this creative legend still pushing type and pictures on Self Magazine layouts sitting in his completely neat and spare working office. We engaged in a wonderful conversation on the vitality of home design magazines and what my opinion was if House and Garden Magazine were to change its name to HG. Lieberman asked me to become the art director of HG and join a young editor from London named Anna Wintour. Unfortunately, my freedom and international projects for Bloomingdales were of great interest to me so I was not able to accept his generous offer. 

Over the years, we continued to talk about opportunities to work together, I would see him at dinner with his wife Tatiana at Diane Von Furstenberg’s farm, Cloudwalk but I couldn’t never find the right assignment or timing. Despite the great influence editorial design had on me, the notion of another magazine career was never to be. Nevertheless, I stay close to the editorial world writing for various publications and blogs on culture and the first place I go during my frequent trips to Tokyo is the magazine/book store.

Today, the editorial space is being revolutionized by technology. The great photo journals are being replaced by the speed and reach of the web. While certainly great magazines still exist, the economic challenges have altered the landscape and the creativity that once was the domain of great editorial teams. We now live in world of magazines created by their advertising departments, where we confuse marketing with editorial, photoshop for photography, a time of consumer research driven “ideas” and the cult of celebrity as a substitute for real direction. While we may need Vreeland’s boldness, exuberance, fantasy and big ideas more than ever… we also need her ability to execute such ideas. Vreeland’s magic was made possible by the sheer talent and taste of her legendary collaborators. Execution is forever king.

Our ability to create what the world yet knows is desirable will never be possible if we continue to underestimate the public’s intelligence.

The eye has to travel.

John C Jay

Trailer: 

http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/148676/Diana-Vreeland-The-Eye-Has-To-Travel-Official-Movie-Trailer-2012-HD-Fashion-Documentary/

David Bailey interview: 

http://pdngallery.com/legends/bailey/interview19.shtml

John C Jay Facebook Post:

The Eye Has to Travel 

Photo Copyright Diana Vreeland

http://dianavreeland.com/

Antonio’s World… Changed Mine

(Antonio Lopez films Jerry Hall, photo by Norman Parkinson)

(This bag, hand painted by Antonio was a thank you for a party we held for him at Bloomingdales. Private collection of John C Jay.)

(This drawing was for a Bloomingdale’s ad for accessories and part of the Suzanne Geiss Gallery exhibit.)

(Drawing on left was for Bloomingdale’s China campaign. Left top and bottom for Bloomingdales fashion series. All from the book, p. 246-7)

(Drawings from “Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco” by Rizzoli)

It was a glorious moment, one of great creativity and each night was filled with excitement. Some of my creative staff would dance till dawn and come to work without missing a beat. Downtown was infusing new energy into Paris, Tokyo designers were challenging the runways of the old school, and a new international youth culture was emerging. Gloria Gaynor made us all feel invincible, able to survive anything. If we only knew what lurked ahead.

The fresh faces of students from F.I.T. and Parsons pressed against the large panes of glass that opened out to Lexington Avenue of Manhattan.

Each window of Bloomingdale’s served as an artist studio and the students were at least 5 deep all along the stretch of windows of the flagship store.

Inside was the Pied Piper of style culture, the legendary Antonio Lopez; the greatest fashion illustrator of all time and the creator of major talent and curator of the world.

To be one of “Antonio’s Girls” was to be a fixture in the international fashion pages, late night events with Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Paloma Picasso, and in the intelligent lens of Bill Cunningham.

As Antonio painted on large floor-to-ceiling canvases in big bold strokes in each Bloomingdale’s window, the artistic kids dreamed to be in his world of influence. I have worked with some of the greatest creators but only Antonio could leapfrog from culture to culture, medium to medium, uptown to downtown as a cultural Svengali. He made the careers of a new generation of fashion models, sent B-boys to Paris for their first performance on European streets and led young students through art school into the studios of designers in his sphere of influence.

His Union Square studio was across from Warhol’s Factory and a place of constant creative exchange. I would sit there till midnight as he and his creative director, Juan Ramos, would put the finishing touches on his latest painting or drawing for one of my fashion campaigns.

It was Antonio who first introduced me to the culture of B-Boys, break dancing kids who became the ambassadors for the 4 elements of Hip Hop. He and Juan would surprise me with different expressions of culture and techniques in order to create innovative visual stories.

His range was extraordinary, Antonio could show more detail than a photograph and yet express the feeling of a piece of apparel by showing very little. His drawings were filled with confidence, a sense that was not just literal but how you would actually feel in the moment.

The greatest lesson learned from all the work Antonio and I did together, the nights in his studio at 31 Union Square West, was that being an active participant in culture was necessary in order to stay fresh with our ideas. As a creative person, you cannot depend on the inspiration of others, it’s imperative to create your own network of relationships with eclectic people…your ability to stay relevant means being uncomfortable with what you know and engaging with society in order to appreciate what you need to learn.

Being in Antonio’s studio was immersing yourself into art, music, fashion, design and culture at large. Being in New York then was like traveling with Jules Verne into the center of a cultural universe.

Seemingly traveling through time with no end in sight, the intersection of so many people and influences suddenly came to an ugly crash…as an unknown virus destroyed the lives of so much talent. The creative industries around fashion and art was decimated by AIDS.

The world lost the genius of Antonio Lopez on March 17, 1987 and his creative director, Juan Ramos on November 2, 1995 to the disease.

Once while on a trip for Nike meetings in Tokyo in the early 90’s, I decided to visit the gallery of the LaForet building in Harajuku. To my surprise, there was retrospective of Antonio’s work and hanging in the gallery were the very large canvases that he had painted in the Bloomingdale’s windows.

It was an emotional moment of reconnection. Sitting in the dark room on the floor was a solitary figure gazing at the canvases. A single light from above separated the figure from the huge drawings. It was Juan Ramos.

Today, the work and lives of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos inspires yet another generation. “Antonio: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco” by Roger Padilla and Mauricio Padilla, published by Rizzoli is an extraordinary record of a career unlike we have ever seen since.

The Suzanne Geiss Company has mounted a wonderful show in its gallery at 76 Grand Street in New York City, showcasing three decades of his work and collaboration with Juan Ramos. The exhibition includes many never before seen art, photographs and videos of the era.

So the spirit and genius of Antonio lives on, it does survive…and I can see the DJ putting Gloria Gaynor on the turntable as I write.

The book (on Amazon)

John C Jay

Wieden + Kennedy

Aug 1

Disco Inferno

(Photo illustration by Miles Johnson)

(Rorschach by Andy Warhol, The Painting Factory: Abstractions After Warhol)

(Kelley Walker)

(Tauba Auerbach)

(Josh Smith)

It’s never easy being defined as the devil but it helps when you are on stage of the Cooper Union with 2 other candidates for the inquisition. Tokion Magazine’s launch of its Creativity Now conference on September 6, 2003 featured as one of the day’s topics, “The Commodification of Art” with the influential art dealer and gallery owner, Jeffrey Deitch; Shepard Fairey, the artist/designer with a legion of global fans from his provocative wheat pasting images in the streets; and myself representing the advertising field. The moderator was artist, Ryan McGuiness.

At the time, I was the Executive Creative Director of Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo, an office I helped to open as my agency began to expand its reach into Asia. Being the representative of the second oldest profession in the world usually would make me the likely demon in this symposium, but fortunately, I had my friend Jeffrey Deitch on stage with me. There was no illusion about my role in bringing art and commerce together, but the world of art has its own set of disguises and intellectual pretenses. Leave it to Jeffrey to be the most interesting contributor in our segment on stage.

“Deitch got the deepest, talking about how artists in the 70’s were able to subvert the museum system with work they placed into it. And called on artists to subvert the advertising system with work they inject into…” said a review by Abstract Dynamics.org. I have always admired Jeffrey for his daring and will to challenge all of us. I believe that creative people are very quick to upset the status-quo of others but can remain incredibly benign when asked to challenge their own sense of comfort and position in their field.

In the Spring of 2010, Jeffrey gave up his hugely influential gallery, Deitch Projects in SoHo which had become a destination point for young creative people all over the world to become the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. To show his total commitment to Los Angeles he did what any true New Yorker would never do, he gave up his apartment in the city. He dared to think that he could be successful as the first director of a major art museum to come from the commercial gallery world. He was willing to dive into the culture of LA….without a driver’s license. But learning how to drive a car was going to be the least of his lessons to be learned.

When I visited Deitch recently, he shared his ideas over lunch for an upcoming show, “Fire in the Disco”, an exploration of disco’s influence on art and culture.  Of course, our discussion drifted to Studio 54 and its incredible fusion of social, artistic and cultural forces that captivated the city’s night, breaking down traditional walls of social differences. I remember opening night of The Palladium on 14th Street designed by Arata Isozaki, featuring its wall of artists of the lower east side including Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Suddenly, the streets became the canvas of youth and credibility was no longer the sole domain of MFA programs. Interestingly, while I was out doing my nightly “research” in NYC…Deitch actually was studying at Harvard grad school but the power of this electric moment stayed in his head. Little could he know then, that three decades later, his acknowledgement of disco culture’s improbable impact could be his undoing as a museum director.

In a recent message to the MOCA membership, he describes contemporary art today as “the most exciting new cultural platform, connecting with fashion, music, design, film, performance and community development.” Deitch continues, “It is essential that MOCA remain progressive and at the forefront of change, as it always has been. The museum’s upcoming program is a response to an articulation of the current art and cultural landscape today.”

In the July 23, 2012 edition of the New York Times, critic Roberta Smith wrote “A Los Angeles Museum on Life Support”.  In a philosophical tug of war, the MOCA’s long time chief curator, Paul Schimmel left after a vote by the museum trustees. Then the resignation of all four artist-trustees, John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha rocked the city, sending a strong message to the museum leadership.  “The museum, which counted artists among its most active founders, has always had them on the board. In a sense their loss was as shocking as anything that came before.” “What concerns me is seeing the museum embracing more celebrity and fashion” said Opie. Baldessari added,  “To live with my conscience, I had to do it.”

“The real issue at stake here is the very mission of modern art institutions. Should museums hew close to academic approaches, presenting art with intellectual depth yet perhaps alienating average patrons? The Atlantic Wire continues, “Or should they glam it up by programming sexy statement-driven exhibitions that challenge the old guard and attract droves of visitors?”

So how is Deitch doing right now?  The criticism may continue but fact is that his two latest examples offer the public two very interesting opportunities to engage with contemporary art. The current shows at MOCA, “Sky Ladder” by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of my favorite artists in the world, has the ability to astound you through sound, sight and ideas based on pyrotechnic techniques. Working with over 100 local volunteers, Cai and his studio set up in MOCA for a week to create three gunpowder drawings for the museum, exploring his long fascination with extraterrestrial life and natural disasters. This extraordinary show at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the first West Coast solo exhibition for Cai Guo-Qiang ran during the month of July 2012.

At MOCA Grand Avenue, the exhibition space features “The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Andy Warhol” until Aug, 20 2012.  This show “explores the recent transformation of abstract painting into one of the most dynamic platforms for contemporary art. The exhibition expresses a painting tradition that was once essentially reductive but now has become expansive, merging popular culture, and current technology and into its vocation.”

Walking through the exhibit with Deitch, I can’t help but be taken by the passion he has for contemporary art and its role in society. He had renovated the space, exposed the sky lights, giving the art a place to be showcased and appreciated. Painting by painting, section by section, he took me through the narrative of the show and how each painter influenced the next…starting with Warhol.  It was obvious that he had great pride in the show and my only criticism was that the connective tissue… the story and concepts in his head needed to be made available to all visitors in the gallery.

Clearly, I had an advantage that day, a personal tour with a very personal vision. All art museums should be so personal.

No doubt, as a newcomer to Los Angeles, Deitch has had a lot to learn, some early sins of not seeing his surroundings through the eyes of his new constituents have cost him dearly. He has made mistakes. I just hope for the city of Los Angeles and its art patrons, Deitch is given enough time to respond to the challenges. His risk-taking ways in New York such as his annual Art Parade, brought joy and inspiration to the streets and downtown neighborhoods. As a Creative Director, I learned that it was no longer about having the spotlight on me… instead, I needed to focus on my ability to make all those around me shine. As the director of MOCA, his new role is about staying true to his vision while developing a new team of curators to lift MOCA beyond what any one person can do. Deitch has a long reputation for nurturing new young talent in his New York gallery. MOCA offers a bigger stage for his skills and vision. Jeffrey Deitch puts himself on the line each time and he plays fearlessly to win. He constantly seeks to challenge his own status-quo and that safety net below all those traditionalists around him. He is indeed provocative and brings new energy to the intellectual rigor of art.

Jeffrey Deitch may indeed be the devil, but he is my kind of evil…the kind that makes the world more open to new ideas by challenging all those around him to be fearless and open for criticism.

Will he last this current controversy? My vote goes to Jeffrey Deitch and his love for art…and the devil definitely made me do it.

John C Jay

Links:

Cai Quo-Qiang “Sky Ladder”

The Painting Factory “Abstractions after Warhol”

America’s Got Talent

Growing up on North High Street in Columbus, Ohio is a long ways from sitting at a table in the White House having lunch with the First Lady, Michelle Obama. This was my second time dining in the big house, but the first to have the honor to chat with our First Lady at her table. The White House, as you can imagine is a very inspiring place and somewhere in my never defrosted freezer, I still have my President Clinton M&M’s that they used to give away to guests at the White House during his presidency.

The luncheon was to recognize the 2012 honorees of the National Design Awards given by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and part of the extraordinary Smithsonian Institution which I have the pleasure of serving on their national board. The awards cover major categories of design including architecture, product, fashion, communication, interaction and landscape architecture. I had the great honor of being this year’s Jury Chairman, leading an amazing collection of judges representing each of the categories of design expertise.

To be in the company of this country’s greatest creative talent is exciting but it was Mrs. Obama’s idea of a Design Fair, where over 300 young students from NYC and Washington D.C. came to meet with all of the honorees and judges that was most inspiring. Each of us was given a table where groups of high school students could come and explore the idea of design as a future vocation. My table was always crowded, not because of me… but because the table next to me was Thom Brown, the super talented fashion designer and winner of the National Design Award for the fashion category.

There is justified concern in this country about our abilities to compete in science and math. Clearly our national scores have shown a decline in our student’s aptitude for these important areas of study. America however, continues to be very strong in our creative thinking and innovation. We remain a great nation of imagination and creativity. Yet, nothing can be taken for granted and our challenged school systems have been forced to cut the arts out of their regular curriculum. Our national gift of imagination comes from our rich ethnic diversity as well as a long standing tradition in education of giving our students the tools to think about the world in a broad intellectual and cultural context.

Our skills in thinking and making creatively is one of our most valuable assets as a nation. Thus, the sciences must be balanced by the arts for us to remain a critical leader in innovation. The young creative minds of this generation and beyond will continue to be a hallmark of American greatness but competition for great ideas is global within this uber-connected generation.

Creativity is one of the most important defining differences between nations and our ability to nurture new talent is key to our future. Our left brain alone can only take us so far…and we have a long ways still to go. There is no end to imagination.

John C Jay

National Design Awards

We Lost a Legend Today

We Lost a Legend Today.

I put on the large headphones as the roar of the rotors began to break the still of the summer sky. I give the thumbs up as the pilot to my left lifts the helicopter off the ground, the clear bubble I am sitting in allows me to see the asphalt quickly diminish as we reach straight-up for the clouds. I peer around my other shoulder to see a chorus line of other helicopters hovering in a neat single formation. We look like the tail of a whip in the sky with my lead helicopter creating a response from the rest in line as we scream forward through the clouds. Wagner’s’ classic “Ride of the Valkyries” plays in my head as I lead the flying formation from our Manhattan’s East River meeting spot towards the Pennsylvania airspace. It was my Apocalypse Now moment.

Our destination is visible on the horizon and our landing area is a large parking lot outside of a new shopping center in King of Prussia, Pa.
There is a large crowd waiting for our arrival including a marching band playing as I bring each helicopter to touch down one by one. We coordinate to reveal the special V.I.P. guests of each helicopter. The first door opens, Calvin Klein steps out, helicopter two opens and Donna Karan looks into the summer light. The next helicopter door reveals the chicly rumpled linen suit of designer Bill Blass. Oscar de la Renta smiles to the crowd as his giant plastic bubble opens to the music of the band. One by one, each helicopter brought the best of American fashion from their summer haunts in Connecticut, the Hamptons and Fire Island into one of the most dazzling store openings ever.

Bloomingdale’s had done it again and Marvin S. Traub, the store’s showman CEO and one of the great visionaries in all of American business was able to convince the elite of style to leave their summer sanctuaries, private gardens and beaches on a beautiful summer Sunday to meet at a mall in Pennsylvania for the opening of his latest creation.

For over a decade, as the store’s creative director, this man took me to the most amazing places in the world to meet and work with all those he found inspiring. Traub passed today (1925 -2012) but the inspiration he left still pierces the sky. The man who created “Like No Other Store in the World” is smiling with pride tonight because he proved that creativity always matters. His passion to place Bloomingdale’s in the center of culture then was not simply a marketing strategy but his ultimate faith in the imagination and originality of people.

Thank you Marvin. It was an incredible ride. 

The funeral for Traub is this weekend.

John C Jay

(Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)