REVIEW The 1972 Munich Olympics is mostly associated with terrorism, with Marc Spitz running a distant second. But Otl Aicher’s graphic design for the event exemplifies the better possibilities of the fusion of humanism and capitalism that characterizes each incarnation of the international event. A member of the White Rose movement and friend of Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were arrested and executed by the Nazis, Aicher later made his name through graphic design concepts that possess a rare fusion of experience and imagination. Three years after his successful branding work for Lufthansa Airlines, Aicher created a friendly yet intricate pictorial language or pictogram system for the individual programs, posters, and even tickets of the Munich Games. While many exhibitions fail at presenting graphic design as a form with much soul or personality, "Otl Aicher: München 1972" has no shortage of either or of refreshingly-deployed color, for that matter. A blue and green oasis within the SFMOMA behemoth, its pleasures spiral outward from the Op Art-like symbol Aicher used for the event’s main icon, into a number of engagingly basic and extremely influential renderings of the body in motion. Or in other words, iconic images of human striving.
The latest show by the contemporary Bay Area artist Veronica De Jesus presents an entirely different take on corporate branding and athleticism one that nonetheless possesses a friendliness quite akin to Aicher’s work. Viewed alongside "München 1972," De Jesus’s "Do the Waive" comes off even more sharply as a satirical, at times hilarious, but also troubling take on the tyranny of symbols and supposed meanings wielded by the contemporary sports entertainment complex. Simply put, the logos for CNN and Shell don’t have the ingenuity of Aicher’s iconography. When De Jesus renders them or the trademark colors of McDonald’s via child-like scrawlings, the taken-for-granted commercialism woven into daily life to influence kids’ aspirant dreams seems questionable and dubious and absurd at its very core. Like Jenny Holzer with a far less dry sense of humor, De Jesus also has a talent for twisting received ideas or language, whether via creative misspelling or isolated bits of media chatter. (Three of her titles: Fry Anyone, Closed for the recession, and my favorite, People are going after the french fries.) "Do the Waive" is packed with treats. I enjoyed the life-size portraits and the connection between homo-affection and homo-aggression drawn literally by It’s a Battle and All Hugs. But the best works are smaller ones that layer media babble and athletic imagery into visions that are confusing, exhausting, and attractive all at once, like a day’s journey through an empire of signs.
OTL AICHER: MÜNCHEN 1972 Through July 7, free$15. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000. www.sfmoma.org
VERONICA DE JESUS: DO THE WAIVE Through June 16. Michael Rosenthal, 365 Valencia, SF. (415) 522-1010, www.rosenthalgallery.com
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This week’s museum and gallery listings.