review: Pentagram rebrands the esteemed Philadelphia Museum of Art

With a fancy new underground wing designed by Frank Gehry opening soon, PMA is refreshing their brand with a new identity and branding elements by Pentagram, replacing the staid and griffin-guarded existing logo with a customized, friendlier Avenir weight and placing the emphasis solely on the Art with a flexible “_rt” logo with hundreds of variations substituting the “A” for triangular graphics, objects and isolated images from the museum’s vast and lauded collection. 

While a refresh was long overdue and needed for the truly world-class museum, I’m not sure this identity pushes the right buttons. Looking at the American modern art museum landscape (LACMA, MoMA, Guggenheim, Metropolitan) many of their brands push either their location or their unique name, whereas here it’s the generic and un-anchored “Art” doing most of the heavy lifting, something I’m sure may ruffle some feathers of many Philadelphians who are rightly proud of their iconic addition in the US art world. And while their truly is impressive Art at the museum, there’s also it’s beautiful architecture and prime location, anchoring a corner of downtown Philly.

The flexible identity and it’s myriad of options is certainly impressive and should go a long way to help “open the doors” of the museum to many who aren’t aware of the many treasures under it’s distinctive roof. However in many scenarios the black (and somewhat dated looking) “rt” feels disjointed and not unified to the chosen object, perhaps unique complimentary colors for the “rt” (or even a computer program that determines the type colors using the chosen art object) would help tie the art and the “rt” closer. And why not utilize the isolated objects for the collateral pieces, instead of the typical-looking folders and brochure layouts? More could (and probably will in the future) be done to create some more vibrancy across the board, but over all, minor quibbles for a decent, if somewhat misguided rebrand.

Had the opportunity to check out the Kara Walker installation “A Subtlety”, at the now shuttered Domino sugar refinery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The centerpiece is a massive sphinx made with 35 tons of sugar (over a scaffolding and foam frame). The piece is incredibly breathtaking and should really be seen in person to fully understand it’s meaning and it’s historical significant message. 

Learn more about the installation here