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Ladislav Sutnar

The cover of a catalog or book. The bottom half is in black and white. Two men wearing hats stand with their back to us, facing a wall covered in maps and images that seems to bend. There are two men near the wall in the distance. Above the wall is a dark blue background.

Ladislav Sutnar. We Live [Žijeme], 1931–33. Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition Fund; restricted gift of Mary and Roy H. Cullen and Eric Ceputis and David Williams.

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Born in present-day Czech Republic, Ladislav Sutnar was an influential graphic designer who laid the groundwork for modern information graphics through designs inspired by the avant-garde visual languages of Constructivism and the German Bauhaus school of design. Sutnar was a key figure in the modernist art and design circles in Prague between World War I and II. While in Prague he served as a professor and director at the State School of Graphic Arts, and was also an art editor at Cooperative Works, a publishing house where he designed book jackets, utilizing photomontage and asymmetrical typography. Sutnar applied his avant-garde sensibilities to other projects as well, designing magazines, exhibitions, glassware, porcelain, textiles, and toys.

Sutnar was awarded the commission to design the Czechoslovak Pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Following the outbreak of World War II, Sutnar decided to stay in the United States, where he remained for the rest of his career. Sutnar became the art director for Sweet’s Catalog Service, where he designed graphically innovative publications and developed design systems to clearly organize complex information. One of his most lasting contributions was the idea to place parentheses around area codes, which made long phone numbers easier to comprehend. Sutnar was also one of the first designers to use double spreads in his work instead of single pages, increasing the amount of space for visual information. His graphic design work and philosophy were showcased in the 1961 book and exhibition Ladislav Sutnar: Visual Design in Action. Sutnar has had a lasting impact on the field of information design and the post-modern style of design graphics.

At the Art Institute his work has been featured in exhibitions including Avant-Garde Art in Everyday Life in 2011 and The Czech Avant-Garde Book in 2014. More than one thousand works by Sutnar can be found in the museum’s departments of Architecture and Design, Prints and Drawings, Photography, and the Ryerson Library. These rare central and eastern European media and design items from 1910–30 were acquired in 2009 from the collection of Robert and June Braun Leibowits.

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