Famous graphic designer and artist, Elaine Lustig Cohen is recognized for her designs specifically European avant-garde and modernist influences with an American, mid-century style of typographic communication. Her works became popular because of their characteristic combination of modernist past and changing present. 

She saw art and design as separate but equal practices and in her life. This forms her wide range of unique style designs. She designed artworks, building signages as an architectural tool, catalogues, logo designs, etc. Cohen was more than just a graphic designer; she worked in various disciplines and created her unique style in a multidisciplinary approach.

Elaine Lustig Cohen’s Life and Career

Elaine Lustig Cohen started her career in the 1960s with hard-edged, colorful geometric abstractions and also reflected her modernist architectural aesthetic look. After her husband Alvin Lustig’s death, she completed his unfinished works and started with building signage for the Seagram Building. This led her into the design sector more and became a graphic design expert specialized in book cover design, museum catalogues, paintings, etc.

In the late 1960s, after commercial works, she closed her studio and started to draw attention toward painting. In the 1990s, she developed her work into lively, playful compositions consisting of collage, photography, and typography combined with history, art, literature, and nature. She had a passion for art and she marked a living link in contemporary graphic design with steps beyond the men in the field, she became a leading model by making the firsts like a solo exhibition.

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Elaine Lustig Cohen _©nytimes.com

Elaine Lustig Cohen’s Ideology and Philosophy

Elaine Lustig Cohen has the ideology of seeing art and design as two practices intertwined together. She also mentioned that a great part of being an artist is not only a way to become a painter, sculptor, photographer,etc; it is also a way to open a door through finding different meanings of life and existence.

For this reason, Elaine Lustig Cohen had a respected career as a leading female designer responsible for multiple tasks, exhibitions. She was an artist working in various techniques coming with innovative solutions to typography and avant-garde.

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Prints by Elaine Lustig Cohen_©elainelustigcohen.com

Elaine Lustig Cohen was also the first woman to have a solo exhibition. In Painting Gallery, Elaine Lustig Cohen’s early paintings and pioneering design projects were displayed. Moreover, in 2011, Elaine Lustig Cohen received the AIGA medal. She was awarded to individuals who have set standards of excellence over a lifetime of work and made individual interpretations to innovation in scope of the practice of design. 

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Photo by Andy Romer Photography_©theglasshouse.org

Elaine Lustig Cohen’s Avant-garde Style Modernism

Elaine’s graphic design practice played a significant role in the evolution of American modernism with the experimentation and ideas of the avant-garde. Creating a new interpretation of 20th-century avant-garde typography, she developed her colour palette and type preferences. By this way, she created a significant unique characteristic in design.

Elaine Lustig Cohen was not an ideological modernist but she considered clarity and simplicity by using functional typography with asymmetry as a guiding principle. Her work depended on accidents and was similar to create a painting or collage; creating a puzzle and playfulness even in her most rationalist work. Elaine was inspired by the creativity of abstract artists such as Sonia Delaunay, Kurt Schwitters, and Sophie Täuber Arp. 

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Paintings by Elaine Lustig Cohen_©elainelustigcohen.com

She also worked for the Jewish Museum and designed catalogues, invitations, bags, and exhibition installations for important artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. She designed approximately 20 catalogues for an innovative art program in Jewish Museum. She had a high ability to think conceptually and experimentally with form and type and it has benefits for her minimal and abstract works for the museum. She used primary colours and using the white colour essentially, her works created a dynamic layout with circular lines and kinetic movements. 

For this reason, for Jewish Museum, Elaine created a unique and vibrant graphic personality with reflecting the spirit of contemporary art and typography.

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Catalogues for the Jewish Museum_©elainelustigcohen.com
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Jewish Museum Invitation Card_©gmk.org.tr

She worked with galleries and museums for designing materials for exhibitions of famous artists like Picasso, Zao Wou Ki, and Marca Relli. Elaine Lustig Cohen used linear elements expressing both Dadaist inconsistency and Bauhaus style geometrical shapes into a fresh, sensitive but enduring composition in exhibition catalogues for Picasso. She used colours and typography to impress and emphasize the letters and created strong communication with the spectators. 

In 1972, she opened Ex Libris which is a book shop with private and institutional design collections such as rare avant-garde art and architecture books, posters, periodicals and, other ephemera.

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Exhibition Catalogs for Picasso_©letterformarchive.org
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Design Biennale Catalog_©gmk.org.tr

Cohen’s Contribution in Architecture: Building Signage

Seagram Building’s building signage was the milestone for her career life because it was her first job after his first husband’s death, and she had not prepared for this kind of architectural and graphic design work. However, Philip Johnson assigned her for this work and she created a very stylistic and elegant look for a building’s definitive façade. The letters defined the space significantly on the concrete and black wall. The term called ‘typotecture’ was not used at that time but the building signage demonstrates the style as considerably harmonizing architecture and typography. 

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Seagram Building Signage_©elainelustigcohen.com
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Yale University Laboratory of Epidemiology Building Signage_©elainelustigcohen.com

Elaine Lustig Cohen created various designs interpreting and referring to surrounding elements, designed a unique contemporary style. In conclusion, she contributed an unforgettable design approach in the field of art and design.


  1. Ericfirestonegallery.com. 2021. Elaine Lustig Cohen – Artists – Eric Firestone Gallery. [online] Available at: <https://www.ericfirestonegallery.com/artists/elaine-lustig-cohen?view=slider#11> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
  2. Gates, A., 2021. Elaine Lustig Cohen, Designer Who Left Her Mark Everywhere, Dies at 89 (Published 2016). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/09/arts/design/elaine-lustig-cohen-designer-who-left-her-mark-everywhere-dies-at-89.html> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
  3. Belen, P. and D’Onofrio, G., 2021. The Art of Modern Graphics – Elaine Lustig Cohen. [online] Elaine Lustig Cohen. Available at: <https://elainelustigcohen.com/the-art-of-modern-graphics/> [Accessed 19 June 2021].
  4. Moong, E., 2021. Elaine Lustig Cohen. At the avant-garde of design ideas | La frimeuse. [online] Lafrimeuse.com. Available at: <http://www.lafrimeuse.com/en/elaine-lustig-cohen-at-the-avant-garde-of-design-ideas/> [Accessed 19 June 2021].

Betül Özlem Yılmaz is a 4th year interior architecture student and passionate researcher for different topics which is related to architecture and design. She is interested in reading, writing and conceptualizing the projects for creating unique perspective. Her aim is to combine different disciplines in her writings.

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