March 15 - May 31, 1990
Curated by Nina Castelli Sundell
detail of Maze, 1987
As a designer and author, Leo Lionni is a recognized master who has enriched and expanded the world's visual vocabulary. Mr. Lionni is also an artist who makes drawings investigating a fantastic and strange world of his own invention. It is a great pleasure to be able to present an exhibition of his drawings, and we thank Mr. Lionni for this very special opportunity.
This exhibition was organized by Nina Castelli Sundell,
who was the director of the Lehman College Art Gallery from its inception
in 1984 until recently. Her vision, curatorial expertise, and dedication
have established the Gallery as one of the most important exhibition sites
in the area. We cannot adequately thank her for all her hard work on the
Leo Lionni exhibition and catalog, and for all she has done at Lehman.
We extend our special thanks to Mr. Brian Swann for his contribution to the catalog. We are also very grateful to the New York State Council on the Arts; Alfred A. Knopf, New York; and the Friends of Lehman College for their generous support of this exhibition.
Leo Lionni is best known today for his children's books:
Little Blue and Little Yellow; Frederickthe one about the
mouse who gathers poems while his family is harvesting seeds for the winterSwimmy
the Fish. Of course the children don't remember his name, but to parents
and grandparents, the ones who actually do the reading, he is something
of a celebrity. Most people don't realize that Lionni is also one of the
20th-century's most influential graphic designers. Within that field,
he is a legend. In fact, he didn't start doing children's books until
he had left the world of advertising, teaching, and design to allow more
time for contemplation and for art. Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959)
began as an improvised entertainment for bored grandchildren. What can
you do with a few scraps of colored paper and a lot of imagination ? Make
the first best-selling children's book illustrated with abstract art.
Before that his work as design director for Olivetti Corporation of America
and the art director of Fortune magazine, the co-founder of the
Aspen Design Conference, and editor of Print had revolutionized
graphic design in America. He designed the Family of Man exhibition
catalogue for the Museum of Modern Art, and posters for UNESCO and the
American Cancer Society; so, in one way or another, most of us have already
seen a lot of Lionni's art without having been aware of it. some extent,
the visual sensibility of several generations has been partly shaped by
his work. In the more rarified genres of fine art he is less well known.
His work has been far less visible especially in the U.S., and because
it fits into none of the categories that have preoccupied the recent art
world, it has been metaphorically invisible as well. Now, in the less
doctrinaire atmosphere that prevails, it is perhaps more possible to see
and delight in these elegant explorations of an imaginary natural world.