Paper Expo was an event organized by the ADC for designers to connect with paper companies and get samples of the latest stocks. In 1999 the ADC tasked designer Alexander Gelman to design promotional posters for two of their events.
In 2000 I made my way to New York and joined Gelman’s office as his assistant and remember vividly the first moment I saw these posters. Both are great, but to witness the blue poster in person was a transformative experience – the first time I felt that way about a piece of graphic design. First off the poster (designed for the spring edition of Paper Expo) is printed on foil paper. Foil paper! The white and blue areas are thick lustrous layers of silkscreened ink. Gelman’s geometrically constructed typography featuring custom drawn letterforms emits an otherworldly effect. The reflective areas of letters alter the experience of the poster depending on the light in the room, or your position in front of the poster. This gives the poster an ever-changing spiritual flux that’s uncanny to see. The reductive nature of the letterforms, especially when rendered at such a scale – felt then and still to me – completely new and foreign. The impossible brutalist nature of such typography is novel in general, but might be more familiar within a screen environment. But to see it alive and breathing in tactile physical form—photos never do the poster justice.
The other Paper Expo poster (designed for the 1999 fall edition) is dynamic in a different way. The viewer decodes the message by piecing together torn fragments of letterforms. For a 2D poster it has a distinct foreground and background, and both posters have a surprising depth given their minimalism. Gelman’s concept for both posters was to conjure magic out of the way one can transform paper through physical actions. You can fold paper, or you can rip it to shreds. Either is a performative act that transforms the material permanently and invites a powerful emotional response.