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Artist Mark Bradford creates a bold logo for the Santa Monica Museum of Art's new identity as ICA LA

The last year has brought a lot of change for the Santa Monica Museum of Art. It’s left Santa Monica and its longtime space at Bergamot Station and is now scheduled to open next year in an old industrial building in downtown Los Angeles. In May, reflecting its eastward move, the museum changed its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles — ICA LA, for short. 

As part of the makeover, the museum has been hard at work on a new look — and for that, Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford was enlisted to help the institution devise key aspects of its identity, including its logo.

Bradford has had a long-running relationship with the institution — he first showed his work there in 2001, as part of the traveling group exhibition “Freestyle,” curated by Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem — and donated his time to the project.

“It’s a really generous act,” says ICA LA Executive Director Elsa Longhauser.

For the logo, the artist harked back  to an important piece of Southern California design history: the bright letterpress street posters popularized by the Colby Printing Co., which shut down in 2012. 

“Mark took those block letters that you see on those posters — and he rips and he tears and he layers them,” Longhauser says. “Each letter is a work of art. He composed each one as an individual form.”

Simple, leaning block letters have been sliced in ways that evoke movement for the new logo. These reside on a bright yellow background that nods to Colby’s eye-grabbing color palette.

“I wanted to be part of propelling ICA LA and its long history in Santa Monica forward as it moves to its new home downtown,” Bradford said in a statement. “The logo and treatment reference merchant posters found from L.A.’s Westside to Eastside, which point to the fluidity of both economics and culture.”

The new logo also evokes the wear and tear of paper in an urban setting, something that is certainly inspired by Bradford’s own practice.

He has long been intrigued by the bold, declarative language of merchant posters (employing phrases drawn from these in his prints), and he has used posters as primary source material for his deeply layered collages. Moreover, a half-dozen years ago, he created a series devoted to exploring the forms of the alphabet. (It was shown at the Studio Museum in 2010.)

Bradford’s design will serve as a point of inspiration for the museum’s new building, a 12,700-square-foot former textile manufacturing plant on East 7th Street downtown. Los Angeles-based architect Kulapat Yantrasast, founder of the firm wHY Architecture, is currently developing conceptual drawings inspired by the look.

“I can’t say for certain whether the building will be yellow,” Longhauser says. “But we’re talking with Kulapat and his team about how we can manifest this identity in the building.”

Refurbishment of the space is set to begin in November. The ICA LA is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

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An earlier version of this post reported that ICA LA is scheduled to open in the spring. It is scheduled to open fall 2017.

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