Massimo Vignelli’s poster was commissioned by the Napoli 99 Foundation along with twenty-three other artists from around the world as a contribution towards the cultural image of Naples. Each artist’s interpretation of the city touched on a wide range of topics from architecture, poetry and music, to Mount Vesuvius, the earthquake, and pollution. The posters were first exhibited in Naples but later traveled to Rome, Los Angeles, Dundee and Lahti in order to contribute to the knowledge, promotion and enhancement of the Neapolitan cultural heritage.
As seen throughout Vignelli’s design “canon,” or aesthetic, his designs are distinguished by the brilliant use of typography and a strict adherence to the grid. Order and clear meaning are Vignelli’s top priorities – he only violates the grid when absolutely appropriate. Vignelli believes that both the proliferation of media and the hazards of living in the computer age contribute to a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Like those of the modernist school, as exemplified by the Bauhaus, Vignelli believes in “simple things that work, that last, that are good, and that are real.” Following his mantra, “if you can’t find it, design it” Vignelli uses his own standardized version of the Bodoni typeface, refined specifically to work with Helvetica.
Though a seemingly simple composition, Vignelli’s design is in fact a complicated play on the superstitious nature of Neapolitans. The stark white text spells out the popular epithet vedi Napoli e poi muori, which translates as “see Naples and die.” The phrase means that before dying you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples. Just above the text, directly center but barely discernable, are two black eyes confronting the viewer’s gaze. Breaking free from the grid and the two-dimensionality of the poster hangs a totem of Neapolitan culture. The horned hand gesture known as the mano cornuto is believed to protect the wearer or gesturer from the effects of the evil eye. Hung with the mano cornuto , is a bright orange horn that perhaps alludes to the vulgar interpretation of this same gesture by other cultures. The composition is at once ominous and ambiguous; it’s hard to tell if Vignelli is poking fun at superstition or validating it, but for the sake of his brilliant design, we will have to take our chances!
Artists included in the Napoli 99 Foundation’s poster exhibition: Allner, Ash, Bass, Blackburn, Cerri, Chermayeff, Confalonieri, Edelmann, Federico, Fletcher, Folon, François, Glaser, Gonda, Henrion, Hillman, Igarashi, Kurlansky, Lupi, McConnell, Milani, Paul, Pericoli, Schwartzman, and Vignelli.
More information about the posters created can be found here: http://www.napolinovantanove.org/ventiquattro.php