a letterpress folio of vintage logos
sponsored by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Common Press, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA
Project Title: Inventory
Part 1: The Citgo Sign and Its Connotations
When my sister first moved to Boston, she drove in circles around the large orange and blue Citgo sign, looking for a gas station. The Citgo "trimark," perched high in the sky, is an iconic element of the Boston skyline. As my sister soon learned, there is no gas station affiliated with it (the closest place to refuel is actually 1.5 miles away).
Part 2: So what?
The value of objects of design is often measured by pre-determined indicators of success: Does the design succeed in communicating its intended message to the target audience? Does it provide financial growth for the company it serves? Because, yes, design always serves: the client, the corporation, and the consumer.
As a beloved Bostonian mascot, the value of the Citgo sign transcends the realm of the petroleum business. When Boston Marathon runners glimpse the "neon god," they know they have reached the final phase of their journey (the sign becomes visible at mile 20, and passing it indicates mile 23). When a home run is hit at Fenway Park, all watch the ball fly past the shining sign. At night, expectant mothers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center use its pulsing flash to time their contractions.
Because CITGO is a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, the sign became a contested symbol of international political controversy when Hugo Chavez called President George W. Bush "the devil." In a failed attempt at nationalism, a City Councilor demanded the sign be scrapped and replaced by an American flag. In an unprecedented display of common sense in American politics, Bostonians won out and the sign remained.
How does a mark originally produced as someone's bread and butter come to sit at the heart of international politics? What enables corporate culture to become personal? What is the difference between wearing a t-shirt bearing the GAP logo and wearing a Harvey Milk t-shirt? What is the difference between the Citgo sign – a logo – in Boston and Robert Indiana's LOVE statue – a work of art – in Philadelphia? Is one more beautiful than the other? Do they manipulate visual communication in different ways?
These questions prompted me to acquire a collection of 150+ type-high engravings of vintage corporate logos. The majority of these visual assets come from corporate identity systems that have undergone rebranding. Some of the rebrands were purely visual – NBC, Quaker Maid, RCA, and Buick. Others signaled the company’s demise: Cities Services was absorbed by CITGO in the 1960s. Regardless, from a commercial standpoint, the logos are now valueless: they exist only as inhabitants of a visual-culture hospice program.
Part 3. What did I do?
On the one hand, the endeavor was an inventory and research project of visual corporate history (a corporate nostalgia project, of sorts). I had the chance to look behind the formal elements of the blocks and research the stories behind many of them. On the other, it was an opportunity to subvert corporate visual power, transcend the logos’ original functions, and allow them to exist as works of art.
"A Brief (and Stormy) History of The CITGO Sign." Boston.com. The New York Times, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <http://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2014/05/20/a-brief-and-stormy-history-of-the-citgo-sign>.
"CITGO.com, Company History, Boston Sign." CITGO.com, Company History, Boston Sign. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <https://www.citgo.com/AboutCITGO/BostonSign.jsp>.
Ogo., and Process Logo One-Color. "CITGO Logo Guidelines." CITGO Logo Guidelines (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 3 May 2016. <https://www.mycitgostore.com/files/CITGOLogoGuidlines.pdf>.
"SEGAL: The Citgo Sign and Other Corporate Gods - The Daily Free Press." The Daily Free Press. N.p., 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 03 May 2016. <http://dailyfreepress.com/2007/10/15/segal-the-citgo-sign-and-other-corporate-gods/>.
"32 Famous Triangle Logos." DesignCrowd. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <http://blog.designcrowd.com/article/369/32-famous-triangle-logos>.