Designer Tibor Kalman explains his outlook on society, politics, and the role that design plays our culture. He also shares his book, “Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist.”

Charlie Rose is anchor and executive editor of “Charlie Rose,” the nightly one-hour program that engages in one-on-one, in-depth conversations. Since 1991, “Charlie Rose” has engaged America’s best thinkers, writers, politicians, athletes, entertainers, business leaders, scientists and other newsmakers in one-on-one interviews and roundtable discussions. The program is taped at Bloomberg LP’s headquarters in New York City and airs on PBS stations across the U.S. as well as during evening hours on Bloomberg Television around the world.

 


[Transcript]

00:18
Charlie Rose: TIBOR KALMAN is here. He is one of America’s most influential designers. A native of Budapest, Hungary, he revolutionized the design world with the magazines, Colors and Interview. From Talking Heads to the Museum of Modern Art, from MTV to New York’s 42nd Street Development Project, his firm, M & Company, has created images that are both controversial and innovative. His accomplishments are recognized in a new collection of essays, entitled Tibor, Perverse Optimist. I am pleased to have him here tonight to talk about an extraordinary career and an extraordinary and unique and innovative approach to design. Welcome. I say at the beginning of this, ”He has come to be a friend of mine, and I am honored to have him at this table.” Welcome.
00:48
Tibor Kalman: Thanks.
00:50
Charlie Rose: It’s a pleasure to have you here.
00:52
Tibor Kalman: Thank you, Charlie.
00:54
Charlie Rose: ”Tibor”? As a name, where did that come from?
00:59
Tibor Kalman: Well, every– just about everybody in Budapest was named ”Tibor.” And there were no ”Charlies” as far as I had ever heard of.
01:06
Charlie Rose: Well, Tibor’s a great name. Actually I like ”Tibor” rather than–
01:12
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
01:14
Charlie Rose: I mean ”Tibor” sounds like a name that–
01:16
Tibor Kalman: Right.
01:18
Charlie Rose: ”Tibor, the Magnificent.”
01:20
Tibor Kalman: Right.
01:22
Charlie Rose: You know?
01:23
Tibor Kalman: That’s good. That would be good.
01:25
Charlie Rose: You’d never think of ”Charlie, the Magnificent.”
01:28
Tibor Kalman: Well, I don’t know, Charlie. ”Charlie, the Magnificent.”
01:30
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
01:32
Tibor Kalman: It doesn’t sound so bad.
01:33
Charlie Rose: No, it’s OK. The design– ”designer” — is that how you would most like to be identified?
01:38
Tibor Kalman: Well, the things that link my projects together, I think, are design, although in some of my projects I have worked with an editor. In some projects I have worked sort of as an architectural consultant. Sometimes I’ve worked like an industrial designer. Probably mostly because I just have such a short attention span and am to embarrassed to take–
02:00
Charlie Rose: Does that hinder your work?
02:03
Tibor Kalman: I think it improves it because it keeps me from getting too involved in too many projects. It keeps me from doing too much of the same thing. And it keeps at that kind of point of wonderment that you are at when you take on something you’ve never tried before. And I love that. I mean, I love that sort of feeling of being a 10-year-old kid who’s in charge, actually.
02:25
Charlie Rose: And you can do anything.
02:27
Tibor Kalman: I like most of those parts.
02:29
Charlie Rose: It’s a blank canvas.
02:30
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
02:32
Charlie Rose: The idea that the canvas is blank and you can start anywhere and go anywhere.
02:36
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, and you– it would be nice it’s better if you could have people around you who know what they’re doing.
02:39
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
02:42
Tibor Kalman: But you gotta be in charge of the– I mean, to have the naive person in charge of the people that really know what they are doing, I think, is much better than to have the naive– you know, the naive person work their way up the scale because the naive– you know, the person that doesn’t know that much will do something fresh.
02:56
Charlie Rose: I think that’s true– That’s true in a lot of ways. I mean, most people will say about their life, while they have done something magnificent — let’s say it’s climbing a big, tall mountain. They’ll say, ”If I knew how difficult it was, I might not have attempted it.” You know?
03:11
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, exactly. Same thing.
03:14
Charlie Rose: Same thing.
03:16
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
03:17
Charlie Rose: You find out, if you look back and say ”God,” but in the midst of it–
03:21
Tibor Kalman: Right.
03:22
Charlie Rose: –as you were going up stream.
03:24
Tibor Kalman: Especially at the beginning of it. Really.
03:25
Charlie Rose: That’s certainly the way.
03:27
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
03:29
Charlie Rose: Yeah. I mean, the same feeling.
03:32
Tibor Kalman: Those (crosstalk) are really (crosstalk)–
03:33
Charlie Rose: You’ve gotta have a certain sense of ”I don’t know what’s the end of the tunnel, but let’s head out.”
03:36
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. I mean, that’s what– Isn’t that why we’re here?
03:38
Charlie Rose: I hope so. Yeah, I hope so. Do you think of yourself as a purist in design?
03:44
Tibor Kalman: Well, in some sense. I mean, there’s some of the modern stuff that I don’t like, some of the computer-y kinda stuff. But I think that also has a lot to do with my age ’cause most of the designers doing that work are pretty young and I’m 49. So, it may have to do with my age, but I sort-of consider myself– I would like to consider myself as part of the modernist movement, as opposed to the post-modernist movement. And I guess these days that might even be ”retro” or something which is a term that I would really like not to associate with my work. But I’m– I still believe in modernism in design, in architecture.
04:28
Charlie Rose: I know what ”modernism” means in architecture. What does it mean in design?
04:37
Tibor Kalman: I means kind of, like, very simple, clear work that was all about– I mean, like, a modernism was about rejecting the notion of decoration and making stuff that’s very, very simple and clear — sort of like, if you think about the work of this designer named Paul Rand.
04:51
Charlie Rose: Right.
04:54
Tibor Kalman: Who always did, like, very simple things and did them for, like, IBM and all kinds of big corporations that were very clean and very beautiful, but basically about a clear, simple message. Or even if you look at the work of the title-design of Saul Bass.
05:09
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
05:11
Tibor Kalman: That stuff was– I believe, was modernist.
05:13
Charlie Rose: Let me tell you some other words they use to describe you.
05:16
Tibor Kalman: Mm, thanks.
05:18
Charlie Rose: All right. Well, here goes.
05:21
Tibor Kalman: OK.
05:22
Charlie Rose: ”Provocateur.” You like that?
05:24
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
05:26
Charlie Rose: Why does it fit?
05:29
Tibor Kalman: It fits because it’s sort of how I started my life. You know, in 1968 and 1967 I had the good fortune to go to New York University. And that’s when everything kinda started there. I guess it started earlier elsewhere. But there– that’s when the student movement began.
05:46
Charlie Rose: Right.
05:49
Tibor Kalman: That’s when the hippie movement began. That’s when the yippie movement began.
05:52
Charlie Rose: Is that what shaped your political philosophy the most?
05:56
Tibor Kalman: Yes, I think so. I still have most of those ideals, although I guess I live in a very bourgeois way. So, you know–
06:05
Charlie Rose: Can I tell you how many from the ’60s live in bourgeois way?
06:09
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, I guess so. I guess, if I had enough money, I’d be a ”limousine liberal.”
06:13
Charlie Rose: But you are a ”liberal.” I mean, politically you’ve always been there.
06:18
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, yeah. I think I’m, I guess, to the left of liberals.
06:22
Charlie Rose: Wherever that is. Is it socialism? Is it progressivism? Is it–
06:31
Tibor Kalman: I really would like–
06:33
Charlie Rose: –radicalism? Is it–
06:34
Tibor Kalman: –if this country– I know this’ll freak everybody out, but just take it with a grain of salt. I mean, if we kind-of examine the word a little. I’d really like if this country became the first socialist country in the world. I mean, I know that other countries have tried. But that’s– I’m just admitting my political philosophy. And I know that we’re not in the McCarthy era anymore.
06:53
Charlie Rose: Well, nobody’s gonna attack you for saying that– I mean, I know–
06:57
Tibor Kalman: I mean, I think that–
06:59
Charlie Rose: My friend, Cornel West feels the same way.
07:01
Tibor Kalman: Right. I mean, I think something like health care– It’s just– it’s just disgusting that we can’t get that together. I mean, that we can’t get together a system of having health care that’s not controlled by the government ’cause they don’t do a very good job at it. And I think that’s the bad part of socialism–
07:16
Charlie Rose: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
07:18
Tibor Kalman: Is that governments are just not very good at managing the process of socialism or the dispensation of the money that they’re supposed to collect. I guess I’m one of those people that wants higher taxes and that would be willing to pay them.
07:30
Charlie Rose: In order to have more welfare, more benefits for everybody, spread around–
07:35
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
07:37
Charlie Rose: –regardless of need–
07:40
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
07:43
Charlie Rose: I mean, regardless of anything–
07:44
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
07:46
Charlie Rose: And just applied on the basis of need.
07:47
Tibor Kalman: I mean, I have these doctor friends in Boston who are always talking about that they don’t want the government to do the administration of– they don’t want socialized medicine. What they– and they don’t want the system that exists today because they think that it really leaves a lot of people out in the cold and gives people bad care because right now the idea that the whole medical establishment– The whole HMO establishment seems to be to stop spending money and make a profit.
08:08
Charlie Rose: Yeah, exactly.
08:11
Tibor Kalman: And these are private companies.
08:13
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and to their–
08:14
Tibor Kalman: And so–
08:16
Charlie Rose: –to their own– a lot of doctors are fed up with it.
08:19
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
08:20
Charlie Rose: I mean, because it’s ripped away what they believe they came to do as physicians.
08:23
Tibor Kalman: Right. I mean, I completely sympathize with that. But I think people getting are getting lousy health care because essentially what’s happening, I think, is that the whole thing is getting kinda bid down. ”So, how cheaply can you provide health care? And the cheaper you provide it, the more money we’ll make,” to the point that I believe that doctors are getting bonuses for taking on more patients and, therefore, are having to spend less time with them. You know? When they’re a member of some HMO. Now, the balanced solution that I’ve heard from these friends in Boston, who have a web-site and everything that maybe they’ll put up under my face if they’re taping this show.
09:05
Charlie Rose: Maybe.
09:08
Tibor Kalman: That would be nice. These are a group of doctors and– doctors and nurses in Boston who put together some kind of an ad-hoc committee to defend health care. And their point of view is that the government should not– as I just said, the government should not be in control of this health care, but that it should be private companies but that are not allowed to make a profit — non-profit companies.
09:33
Charlie Rose: All right. I’m gonna move away from this debate, only because there’s so much stuff I want to talk to you about rather than to engage in more. The other word applied to you, other than ”provocateur” is ”contrarian.” You like that, too?
09:48
Tibor Kalman: I like it on certain days. I like it if I can call myself that and stand by it.
09:53
Charlie Rose: Yes?
09:55
Tibor Kalman: I like– I mean, I use contrary-ism in every part of my life. I mean, in design– like, in design, I’m always trying to turn things upside down and see if they just look any better. That was a trick. So, that’s sort of a– I guess a formal kind of contrary-ism. And then– I like– I mean, I’m quite willing to break chops, you know, pretty much anywhere I find them.
10:20
Charlie Rose: In order to create something new?
10:23
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, in order to– I mean, to break other people’s chops about what they’re doing also. You know, I have a lot of criticism of this show that I’d like to discuss with you afterwards.
10:32
Charlie Rose: Well, that’s fine. We hear them– no, let’s do it during the show. This book is called Perverse Optimist. Does that fit?
10:39
Tibor Kalman: I think so.
10:41
Charlie Rose: Why? What’s ”perverse”?
10:44
Tibor Kalman: What’s ”perverse” is that so few people believe the things I believe — like that thing about, like, medicine. Or that– you know, I believe that there’s enough money around to feed everybody. It’s just distributed badly. I believe we have enough resources. And I kind-of believe in the goodness of people. I kind-of believe Americans are much, much more liberal than they’re given credit for.
11:07
Charlie Rose: Right.
11:10
Tibor Kalman: And that they’re manipulated into these things like tax cuts that were really manipulated by Reagan. And that’s why they elected Clinton and– in the end–
11:18
Charlie Rose: Here’s my only– I want to– in the area of manipulation, everybody is in that game.
11:23
Tibor Kalman: Me, too. Yeah– no, I mean, all designers are in that game.
11:28
Charlie Rose: It’s not just the people who want tax cuts. It’s everybody with an opinion–
11:32
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
11:34
Charlie Rose: Or with some effort to try to persuade people to do something different–
11:37
Tibor Kalman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
11:39
Charlie Rose: –is in the game of manipulation. I think.
11:43
Tibor Kalman: Yes. No, as I said, ”I’m in the game of manipulation” ’cause I’m trying manipulate various people, including people in my office, including my children. They never let me. They’re too smart.
11:54
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
11:57
Tibor Kalman: And I think that designers in general are in– are in– are manipulators because they’re not that different from, like, ad agencies.
12:03
Charlie Rose: Well, is that what design is about, in other words? Design is to manipulate you to think that what is here is interesting, attractive, compelling and, therefore, you want to do– either look at it, buy it, be motivated to do something.
12:16
Tibor Kalman: Yes. I mean, usually look– buy it.
12:20
Charlie Rose: Buy it?
12:22
Tibor Kalman: That’s 99 percent of design is about selling stuff. And I believe that, in order to sell stuff, you can’t really tell the truth. You have to, like, exaggerate, lie, whatever. And graphic designers have kinda– graphic designers have kind-of become the liars for corporations, just in the way that I think accountants are liars and I think that lawyers are liars. I guess, corporate accounts and corporate–
12:47
Charlie Rose: What do we exclude, that are not liars?
12:50
Tibor Kalman: I guess we all lie–
12:52
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
12:55
Tibor Kalman: –including our president. He just didn’t get away with it this time. Those nasty Republicanos. They are nasty, these guys.
13:05
Charlie Rose: Really, it’s tough going for the president right now.
13:09
Tibor Kalman: Wow, I mean, from the first day it was tough going. I mean, everybody seemed like they were pissed off about Bush losing–
13:16
Charlie Rose: Yeah, right.
13:17
Tibor Kalman: –and he didn’t even get out of that gays-in-the-military thing.
13:20
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
13:21
Tibor Kalman: And that was two weeks into it.
13:23
Charlie Rose: Yeah. What attracts you to design, then? You know, if you know it’s manipulation, if you know it’s about spin, if you know it’s about sell, what is it that makes you want to be a proud designer?
13:32
Tibor Kalman: Right now?
13:33
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
13:35
Tibor Kalman: Because I can come to it all around the other direction. I can design and manipulate and spin people politically in the direction that I want.
13:42
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
13:44
Tibor Kalman: That’s what I like about design. I mean, I know how to make advertising. I know how to make labels. So, therefore, I can take those skills that I have for manipulating people over a label for a spaghetti sauce and I can take those skills and apply them to idea of– of– of– I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I blew it.
14:07
Charlie Rose: That’s OK. I don’t– continue.
14:11
Tibor Kalman: I can–
14:12
Charlie Rose: You can take the label, like spaghetti–
14:14
Tibor Kalman: Right.
14:16
Charlie Rose: –and do what?
14:17
Tibor Kalman: Well, I can get people to buy it, first of all.
14:19
Charlie Rose: Right.
14:20
Tibor Kalman: And, if I can get them to buy it, then I can get them to buy something else like health care or donations to poorer nations. I can use those skills towards any end I want if I have some support from a foundation or something. I can use those skills to get kids not to buy Gatorade but to drink water, not to buy expensive sneakers but to buy any old sneakers and just practice harder. You know, ’cause– so I can– I can un-commercialize any commercial skill I have — de-commercialize, anti-commercialize, whatever.
14:52
Charlie Rose: I want to look at some stuff that you’ve done, just so that the audience at home knows your work. Let me show you this book. This is the book that we were talking about, which is called Tibor, subtitled The Perverse Optimist, edited by Peter Hall and Michael Bierut and others, in which there’s a whole lot of stuff that you have done in here. And it’s all about you. We-all have some things on slides. Take a look at this, Barnes & Noble — a long-time association between you and Lynn Ridgio (sp).
15:15
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
15:17
Charlie Rose: You went to work for Ridgio when he had a little campus bookstore.
15:20
Tibor Kalman: Right.
15:22
Charlie Rose: And you went in to what? To do what?
15:25
Tibor Kalman: I went in first to alphabetize books because it was much more fun that working in some bar.
15:28
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
15:30
Tibor Kalman: And then I found out that it was no fun at all.
15:32
Charlie Rose: That alphabetizing books was not a great–
15:35
Tibor Kalman: And I kinda tried to talk him into letting me do other stuff, like windows–
15:38
Charlie Rose: Well, didn’t something happen? The window guy left–
15:41
Tibor Kalman: Right, yeah.
15:43
Charlie Rose: Or was it a woman? I don’t know.
15:44
Tibor Kalman: Yes.
15:46
Charlie Rose: And you said, ”I can do that?”
15:48
Tibor Kalman: Of course I said I could do that. That’s why I’m a perverse optimist.
15:51
Charlie Rose: And you did it.
15:52
Tibor Kalman: I did it.
15:54
Charlie Rose: And pretty soon you’re doing all the windows.
15:55
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
15:57
Charlie Rose: Right.
15:58
Tibor Kalman: And I was doing all the windows. And then he kept expanding like crazy.
16:01
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
16:02
Tibor Kalman: And buying stuff up. And I worked for him 11 years. It didn’t get boring.
16:06
Charlie Rose: Yeah. That’s a long-time friendship.
16:09
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. And we’ve been friends–
16:12
Charlie Rose: A deep and long-time friendship.
16:13
Tibor Kalman: We’ve been friends since, you know? We sort-of respect the distance between us. We’re sort-of like ex-lovers or something like that. But you know what I mean? We have a lot of distance between us — less now than before, but I went to Italy for a few years. I sort-of made my career. And so on. And I think he did the same thing.
16:28
Charlie Rose: Made his career.
16:29
Tibor Kalman: A little larger than mine.
16:31
Charlie Rose: Well, we’ll come back to a lot of those– You went to Italy for what? 1990? Something like that?
16:36
Tibor Kalman: I went to Italy from 1993 to 1995.
16:37
Charlie Rose: And then you came back, and you were disillusioned with the Italian experience.
16:42
Tibor Kalman: Well, I was only disillusioned with the way– I was in Rome, which I think was a mistake.
16:45
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
16:47
Tibor Kalman: I always thought it had a lot of energy.
16:48
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
16:50
Tibor Kalman: But it turns out that those people were just hurrying to lunch. And what I think happened is that Rome was a really, really great place to live and a really, really horrible place to work.
16:59
Charlie Rose: A great place to live and a horrible place to work.
17:02
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
17:03
Charlie Rose: Yeah. And you wanted to come back to New York, and you missed New York. And New York was a great place to work.
17:09
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, I actually–
17:10
Charlie Rose: What?
17:12
Tibor Kalman: To be honest with you, I had to come back because I got sick there.
17:14
Charlie Rose: Oh, you got sick there.
17:16
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
17:17
Charlie Rose: Let’s talk about– in a moment, talk about the illness in a sense. Take a look at this. This is Barnes & Noble, the retail bag, this is the graphic design for the bags– for the bookstore’s shopping bag. Take a look at– I mean, we can see that. Now, tell me– you know this by heart.
17:29
Tibor Kalman: Really makes exciting television, doesn’t it?
17:30
Charlie Rose: What is that? I mean, what’s the idea here?
17:34
Tibor Kalman: What is that?
17:35
Charlie Rose: Why is that the design– Tell me why that’s design genius.
17:39
Tibor Kalman: I don’t– Did we say it’s design genius?
17:41
Charlie Rose: Well, I was just– thought we’d–
17:42
Tibor Kalman: I didn’t see the label on there.
17:44
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
17:45
Tibor Kalman: Anyway, Charlie– I mean, what– I was a real amateur designer at this point. And that’s– I took a book-plate from an old book and photographed it and put Barnes & Noble’s terrible typography — now, I think — on it. And they used it for a really long time because– maybe we didn’t have the time to redesign it.
18:00
Charlie Rose: Yeah, ’cause everything was moving so fast.
18:02
Tibor Kalman: But now they have.
18:04
Charlie Rose: So, there’s a new book–
18:06
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. They got all kinds of–
18:08
Charlie Rose: Now, you picked these out for us, didn’t you? It was my understanding you picked the things to look at.
18:11
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. It’s like– Yeah.
18:14
Charlie Rose: OK. So, I mean, you can’t quarrel with what we’re showing.
18:16
Tibor Kalman: Oh, no. I’m not quarreling. Don’t worry. ”Contrarian provocateur.”
18:22
Charlie Rose: Provocateur. OK, run number two here. Slide two — this is a Nikon postcard for the restaurant Fleurant, printed on the crude paperboard used to stiffen shirts. I use that all the time.
18:29
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. Do you take those out of your shirts every day?
18:32
Charlie Rose: I do– all the time. I use them for lots of things.
18:35
Tibor Kalman: So, we got them somewhere else, I’m sure. But this is that same kind of cardboard. And what we decided. I mean, he had to put these basic statements on it, which is, like, the restaurant and where it is and all that. And so we started looking for icons that we could put with that because we didn’t have very much money. It was one-color printing.
18:49
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
18:51
Tibor Kalman: So, we thought, maybe a nice icon– this wasn’t me– It was a couple of us working at the studio.
18:55
Charlie Rose: Right.
18:57
Tibor Kalman: Restaurant Fleurant would– to say that would be a chair. We’ll put a restaurant. A truck for Ganzivor Street (sp) — we had at the time had millions and millions of meat trucks on it. And we couldn’t think of icon for New York, so we used a gun.
19:10
Charlie Rose: So, we think of ”gun.”
19:11
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. We– and then they had a telephone, we had the bell.
19:15
Charlie Rose: Mm-hmm (affirmative), fair.
19:17
Tibor Kalman: It was open 24 hours, so we had the globe. And then I forget for the last thing–
19:20
Charlie Rose: Cup– Coffee cup.
19:22
Tibor Kalman: That’s a coffee cup. Yeah.
19:25
Charlie Rose: Yeah. Coffee cup, globe, truck, gun, chair, bell.
19:28
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. So, pretty easy, you know, to do if– especially if you’re getting this in Yellow Pages and you didn’t have much money.
19:34
Charlie Rose: There’s a– There’s a note here that says, ”The design came out of the idea that a French client with no money and a sense of humor was entitled to some grandeur.”
19:39
Tibor Kalman: Right.
19:41
Charlie Rose: All right. The next one is the China Grill. This is a restaurant here in New York. ”East meets West logo. The logo symbolizes the East-meets-West theme–”
19:52
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
19:54
Charlie Rose: ”–with the chopsticks representing the East and the coat-of-arms representing the West.”
19:58
Tibor Kalman: And that fleur-de-lis.
20:00
Charlie Rose: Eh?
20:01
Tibor Kalman: And the fleur-de-lis.
20:03
Charlie Rose: You mean, the fleur-de-lis.
20:04
Tibor Kalman: I had– I guess it had Asian ingredients prepared in a European way.
20:07
Charlie Rose: Right.
20:09
Tibor Kalman: That’s what they told us. And that’s why it was called China Grill. And we said, ”We can keep going with that.”
20:14
Charlie Rose: ”We can keep with that.”
20:15
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. And coat-of-arms, you know, that kind of thing.
20:18
Charlie Rose: OK, here’s a– here’s a big-time one coming up next. Talking Heads, ”the cover is a combination of a high-tech and primitive look. Faces look like masks and the print is inverted and running together.
20:28
Tibor Kalman: Right.
20:29
Charlie Rose: Who came to you about this?
20:31
Tibor Kalman: Well–
20:32
Charlie Rose: How’d you get this job?
20:34
Tibor Kalman: I got this job by telling David Byrne in a meeting that we had, just set up socially by friends, that we would work for free on their record cover. This is 1981 or so.
20:40
Charlie Rose: So, David liked that idea.
20:42
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, he did. He did. So, we worked for months and months and months and months. And finally one day two members of group, Chris and Tina, walked in with those face images that they had created at MIT.
20:55
Charlie Rose: Right.
20:58
Tibor Kalman: And they were just (unintelligible). And this was at around the time of the Iranian crisis.
21:02
Charlie Rose: So, you got the planes.
21:05
Tibor Kalman: So, we had the planes. And that’s actually– this actually is part of the poster, but it doesn’t matter. And then we turned the A’s upside down just to do something.
21:15
Charlie Rose: Yeah. Inverted it and it makes it run together.
21:18
Tibor Kalman: It’s kind of like a accident to the turn the A’s upside down–
21:21
Charlie Rose: Now, would this be on one of your lists of favorite things?
21:24
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. This project was really fun to do, especially when it was so early on in our careers, and we didn’t get that many fun things to do. It was just mostly trying to make money to be honest.
21:33
Charlie Rose: ”Our careers” meaning your firm?
21:34
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
21:36
Charlie Rose: OK. The next one is the 10-1-4 watch. This is obviously — I said, in the introduction, part of MoMA’s collection, the Museum of Modern Art here in New York. And it shows three random hours to time the day. ”It expresses ironic modernism.”
21:51
Tibor Kalman: Well, yeah. I think that’s reasonably fair. What we were trying to do in this watch is to– we figured that, if there were no numbers on some watches, that we could have anti-numbers on other watches.
22:02
Charlie Rose: Anti-numbers?
22:04
Tibor Kalman: Or numbers that are in the right place, but there aren’t enough of them.
22:08
Charlie Rose: Yeah, that’s right.
22:10
Tibor Kalman: Everybody always said, ”Well, you didn’t finish this watch. And it was actually the idea of my wife who is a very good collaborator of mine.
22:18
Charlie Rose: Yeah. How long have you two been married?
22:21
Tibor Kalman: Seventeen years.
22:23
Charlie Rose: Seventeen years?
22:24
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
22:26
Charlie Rose: And M & Company is her? I mean–
22:29
Tibor Kalman: It’s named after her.
22:30
Charlie Rose: It’s named after her.
22:32
Tibor Kalman: I used to not be able to admit it, for some insane reason that I had.
22:34
Charlie Rose: You wouldn’t admit it?
22:35
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
22:36
Charlie Rose: People would say, ”Where does ‘M & Company’ come from?’ and what would you say?
22:42
Tibor Kalman: If a bank said it–
22:43
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
22:45
Tibor Kalman: –I would say, ”Oh, it means ‘Marketing and Communications,’ of course.” And, if a band said it, then I would say, ”It’s a mystery,” or I would say– I would make some joke, like ”It stands for my mother,” or ”money” or whatever. But the truth of the fact is that Myra’s nickname is ”M.”
22:54
Charlie Rose: Yes, her nickname is ”M,” so you just said, ”M & Company.”
22:59
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
23:00
Charlie Rose: One last thing and then we’ll go to something else. This is the Interview covers — covers are meant to show the extreme side of famous personalities. How many of these have you done?
23:08
Tibor Kalman: Maybe a dozen altogether.
23:10
Charlie Rose: A dozen. Look at that. Showing extreme side of– that’s Liza there. There is– Is that Susan Sarandon on the right?
23:17
Tibor Kalman: Yes.
23:18
Charlie Rose: And others.
23:20
Tibor Kalman: I guess that’s Johnny Rotten.
23:22
Charlie Rose: Johnny Rotten.
23:24
Tibor Kalman: Or– who used to be Johnnie Rotten. I guess he’s still Johnny Rotten.
23:27
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
23:29
Tibor Kalman: And then that’s Laura Dern.
23:31
Charlie Rose: That’s then– Laura Dern. Boy, that’s a good-lookin’ woman.
23:34
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. But– and then the Liza one is just kind of an extreme–
23:37
Charlie Rose: That’s almost the–
23:38
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. But, you see, Laura Dern is supposed to be looking at her name.
23:43
Charlie Rose: Right.
23:44
Tibor Kalman: And it’s on the dock there. And then I just put all the type around Johnny Rotten’s head–
23:48
Charlie Rose: Right.
23:50
Tibor Kalman: It’s just kinda like radiating.
23:51
Charlie Rose: Right.
23:53
Tibor Kalman: And Liza you couldn’t really do much with, you know?
23:56
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
23:57
Tibor Kalman: Because there were– I don’t– there were demands and stuff like that.
24:01
Charlie Rose: Let’s talk about the illness. You went to– what–
24:03
Tibor Kalman: Let’s talk about the illness, Charlie.
24:04
Charlie Rose: No.
24:05
Tibor Kalman: No, it’s OK.
24:06
Charlie Rose: No, I mean, but– you know– All your friends know that you’ve been sick.
24:10
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
24:11
Charlie Rose: What happened?
24:13
Tibor Kalman: Somehow along my life somewhere–
24:14
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
24:17
Tibor Kalman: My doctor said that I ran into– And I don’t remember this incident or this tendency– that I ran into some– I got this disease called ”lymphoma.”
24:23
Charlie Rose: Right.
24:24
Tibor Kalman: Which is a cancer. And I always wondered, like, ”Where the hell did I pick this up?” You know? Is this– did I sleep with someone? How did I get this? And they always say that it had something to do with exposure to fertilizer.
24:38
Charlie Rose: Do they say that?
24:40
Tibor Kalman: What are you gonna–
24:42
Charlie Rose: I didn’t know that.
24:44
Tibor Kalman: That’s the best clue that– that’s the only consistent kind of thing that any of them said when I’ve always asked. Like, ”What was it from?” And maybe nobody knows, too.
24:51
Charlie Rose: And they said, ”Exposure to fertilizer”?
24:52
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
24:54
Charlie Rose: And you said, ”The only time I ever saw any fertilizer was in Italy”?
24:57
Tibor Kalman: There– I mean, I saw it, but I didn’t sit in it. You know, we crossed the border– The only time I can think that I was on a farm was that, when we crossed the border from Hungary into Austria–
25:07
Charlie Rose: Right.
25:10
Tibor Kalman: –when we were leaving by foot.
25:12
Charlie Rose: Let me go back. This is part of your very interesting history. Your parents were– father– You had everything as a child. You had servants.
25:21
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, well–
25:24
Charlie Rose: You had great teachers.
25:26
Tibor Kalman: And this is Communism.
25:27
Charlie Rose: This is Communism. How was that?
25:31
Tibor Kalman: Well–
25:32
Charlie Rose: We’ll come back to the illness. But, go ahead.
25:36
Tibor Kalman: Well, it was great.
25:37
Charlie Rose: I mean, you liked that? You liked Communism?
25:41
Tibor Kalman: You could– Well, we lived very well.
25:42
Charlie Rose: No wonder you liked Communism– socialism
25:44
Tibor Kalman: Isn’t that how it’s gonna be? That we all live very well? We lived very well because my father is an engineer. And that’s kind of at the peak of the Communist–
25:52
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
25:53
Tibor Kalman: –idea about how– I’m sorry.
25:54
Charlie Rose: What we appre– Engineers sort of at the peak of the Communist hierarchy because it’s about people who, in a sense, make things work.
25:59
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. So, it was the most– Engineering was the most important profession in Hungary. And my father was a great– very great young engineer. And he ran all the food factories, all the factories that produced food in any way, like milk and stuff like that, in Hungary — processed milk. And so he had a very cushy job. They gave him a car and a driver. And in our house there was– from somewhere, there was a cook and woman who took care of me as a child.
26:29
Charlie Rose: Right, you were an only child?
26:31
Tibor Kalman: At the time.
26:33
Charlie Rose: At this time.
26:35
Tibor Kalman: At the beginning. Then my brother was born, three years after I was.
26:38
Charlie Rose: But, when you were 6–
26:40
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
26:41
Charlie Rose: –you fled Hungary.
26:42
Tibor Kalman: Right. It was coincidentally 1956, when there was that revolution in Hungary. And my parents sort-of traded all their furniture and stuff like that.
26:49
Charlie Rose: Yeah? You were living in Budapest?
26:53
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
26:54
Charlie Rose: So, they traded all the furniture you had– (crosstalk)
26:58
Tibor Kalman: All the furniture, the paintings, you know, all the stuff that they had to a guy that took us on a train–
27:04
Charlie Rose: Right
27:06
Tibor Kalman: –and had us dropped right near the border, but inside of Hungary, and said he would come with the group people– And then he did the same schtick with 25 other people or 30 other people. And we– and he dropped us off the train, and then he was supposed come with us, but he didn’t. He just left on the train.
27:23
Charlie Rose: Right.
27:26
Tibor Kalman: So, what we did is that we– the whole groups started to walk– kind of in between the sentry lights.
27:31
Charlie Rose: Right.
27:33
Tibor Kalman: On the border between– because we thought, ”The sentry lights is where the Russians were.”
27:38
Charlie Rose: On the border between Austria and Hungary?
27:40
Tibor Kalman: Austria and Hungary, yeah. So– and there was probably about– felt like there was about three miles to walk. That’s what I objectively think it is right now– And we got separated from the rest of the people because my parents had two children that were– one of whom was cranky– I was the excited one. I was saying, ”Let’s go. Let’s go. This is good.”
28:02
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
28:03
Tibor Kalman: We walk– And I think that’s when I got exposed to stuff because we– Maybe.
28:06
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
28:08
Tibor Kalman: Because we slept in a haystack and then went to Austria and waited about a week. And then maybe I’m going too– into this–
28:13
Charlie Rose: No, it’s interesting story because it’s part of your life, and that’s what we’re after.
28:17
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, right. Yeah. And then we had this amazing experience — as I understand it, because you always get this stuff second-hand when you’re young, from my parents — that we walked into this big, big room after about a week in the refugee camp in Austria. We walked into this big, big gigantic room that looks sort– that I remember sort of like a high school gymnasium.
28:38
Charlie Rose: Right.
28:40
Tibor Kalman: And all around the room there were flags.
28:43
Charlie Rose: Right.
28:46
Tibor Kalman: And below the flags there were tables. And it was really about was that you could go any table– these are all the countries that are accepting Hungarian refugees. And there were, like, a bunch of countries — like, 25 or 30 countries — I’m sure that Italy was there. I’m sure that Sweden was there. And the United States, of course, was there, too. And they had the biggest– the biggest crowd at their table, of course. Everybody wanted to go to America. And the way I understood it from my parents — and maybe I got it wrong — was that, if you had a post-graduate degree and you could prove it — you know, that you brought your–
29:24
Charlie Rose: They wanted you?
29:26
Tibor Kalman: They wanted you.
29:28
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and you came to America. And all of a sudden– I think you’ve said this– that, all of a sudden, America looked bright and different and interesting.
29:34
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, I mean– I was 7 years old. I mean, this stuff was amazing– that there were taxis and– you know, we were in a–
29:42
Charlie Rose: Yellow taxis.
29:44
Tibor Kalman: We were in a camp again in America for a while. We were released on January 1st, 1957.
29:48
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and then you made your way to New York City?
29:52
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, because I had a– My mother had her mother there.
29:55
Charlie Rose: Right.
29:57
Tibor Kalman: So, she came and got us at the camp, and we went to New York City. And it was the best thing I ever saw in my life.
30:02
Charlie Rose: Just the whole– everything.
30:04
Tibor Kalman: I don’t even know what it was. But I loved it. You know?
30:07
Charlie Rose: The illness– so you– you– you’ve got lymphoma, right?
30:11
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, now I do.
30:13
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and living with lymphoma.
30:15
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
30:17
Charlie Rose: Does it change, as an artist, perceptions to live with an illness like that? Does it change acuity? Any of that?
30:23
Tibor Kalman: OK. It doesn’t change acuity. It make me much more– I don’t want to waste any time.
30:28
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
30:30
Tibor Kalman: That’s all. ‘Cause I really love what I do, and I can’t– I don’t even think about travelling around the world or doing any of that kind of stuff. I really want to keep on doing what I’m trying to do, which is to kind-of get lost in new projects as often as possible.
30:42
Charlie Rose: Say, ”Look, I’m just gonna go straight ahead–
30:44
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
30:46
Charlie Rose: –until I breathe my last breath, whenever that might come, however far away it is or however close it is.
30:50
Tibor Kalman: Well, you know why? ‘Cause working makes me feel much better physically than sitting at home.
30:56
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
30:58
Tibor Kalman: And I’m not– even though I’d love to travel around the world, I don’t have the– I don’t feel like I want to give it the time. And it’s kind of a pain. And I have to take lots of medicines with me.
31:06
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
31:08
Tibor Kalman: And they’re always worried that they’re gonna have to give me something or chemo or something like that. So, I don’t want to do that either. You know? What I’d rather do is just keep on doing what I’m doing. But I’d like to not waste time, you know? Just not waste time.
31:21
Charlie Rose: Just continue doing what you are doing?
31:23
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
31:25
Charlie Rose: When did you– when did you make it? You know? In some sense of– When was it that–
31:30
Tibor Kalman: A few times.
31:32
Charlie Rose: –Tibor said, ”You know, I got something special to give, and I’m givin’ it”? You know? In other words–
31:38
Tibor Kalman: Getting it? Or giving it?
31:40
Charlie Rose: –people were– No, well, whatever. ”Creating it” is what I mean.
31:43
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
31:45
Charlie Rose: In other words, as a designer, what was the break-out for you? Where people took notice and said, ”Boy is good.”
31:50
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. I guess to a certain audience it was when I– when I worked on the Talking Heads stuff with my studio.
31:56
Charlie Rose: Right.
31:59
Tibor Kalman: I guess to a different audience it was when I started making money, which was in the– kind of the mid-’80s–
32:03
Charlie Rose: Right.
32:05
Tibor Kalman: –when it was pretty easy for designers to make money. Maybe that was for my parents. And I think to myself it was sort of there were a couple of projects that I thought were really great.
32:24
Charlie Rose: Which were they?
32:28
Tibor Kalman: I think the Talking Heads video, maybe. (excerpt from Talking Heads video) It was a project that I felt that I could work on for the rest of my life because it was endlessly fascinating to me how you can combine words and images on film. I think that subject is such a fascinating subject.
32:48
Charlie Rose: To marry words and images–
32:50
Tibor Kalman: Images.
32:53
Charlie Rose: –on film.
32:54
Tibor Kalman: Like movie titles, for instance–
32:56
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
32:58
Tibor Kalman: –is a good example of that. And I’ve gotten some chances to do that, but never my fill of it.
33:03
Charlie Rose: Making movie titles?
33:05
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. Or making pieces of, I guess, music videos or whatever else I could make in which typography and film were very much involved.
33:12
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
33:15
Tibor Kalman: I mean, I even heard– I wanted– always wanted to do projects where I could make, like, maybe a half-an-hour-movie that would just have type on it. And it would have– It wouldn’t have– And somehow I’d have this really great music. This was my vision, anyway. Somehow I’d have this really–
33:32
Charlie Rose: So, just music and type and no voice.
33:35
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, and just have the type kind-of be something that read, but that expresses itself, that reads in a narrative– You know, the character of the way you put the type on the screen and the way the type moves, the way it goes on and off the screen is indicative of the story that’s being told. It has a– has a narrative quality. You know, it’s just like type does– you know, like, when type on a– even on bank commercial, sort-of, like, explodes. They say, ”Special deal,” exploding — you know — type. And then– or, like, when it’s on sale, they say, ”Woo, it’s on sale.” And they move up and down and the flash it on and off — ”20 percent off at Macy’s.”
34:12
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
34:14
Tibor Kalman: But all those expressions are part of a vocabulary–
34:17
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
34:19
Tibor Kalman: –of incredible possibilities and incredible depth. And some people have done really great film titles. I mean, I’ve never seen it, but I’ve always been told Seven was a– I’m gonna rent it tonight.
34:27
Charlie Rose: Are you really? Tonight?
34:30
Tibor Kalman: Seven, yeah. Yeah.
34:34
Charlie Rose: I was gonna say, ”I’ll get this for you.” But you’re gonna rent it tonight–
34:37
Tibor Kalman: Thank you.
34:38
Charlie Rose: –and see the titles?
34:39
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, just to see the titles. Do you remember the titles, at all? Seven?
34:44
Charlie Rose: I don’t. I don’t. That doesn’t mean– I may have come in late.
34:48
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. Everybody in the graphic design community thinks, like–
34:51
Charlie Rose: They’re the greatest. Well, see I’m gonna rent it myself.
34:53
Tibor Kalman: Titles. Right.
34:57
Charlie Rose: Just to go see it. I want to come back to– so, the illness is an everyday battle here. We– we– we– we (crosstalk)
35:03
Tibor Kalman: Well, you know, it’s not every day. But almost– You know, once a month I gotta do something about it.
35:07
Charlie Rose: Sure.
35:09
Tibor Kalman: I have to take pills and stuff.
35:11
Charlie Rose: And– but you keep plowing ahead, and you keep trying to think of new ideas– I gotta get you to– You know, what I want you to do for me is to design a new opening for this program.
35:17
Tibor Kalman: Could it move?
35:18
Charlie Rose: Yes.
35:19
Tibor Kalman: Could it have type?
35:20
Charlie Rose: Yes.
35:22
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, well, I do it.
35:23
Charlie Rose: Will you do this?
35:24
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
35:25
Charlie Rose: All right. Deal. (crosstalk) We’ll have a deal. If I can afford it, we’ll do it.
35:29
Tibor Kalman: Yeah. You can afford it.
35:31
Charlie Rose: I know.
35:33
Tibor Kalman: Or I can afford to give it to you. I mean, if there’s a difference, we’ll split it.
35:35
Charlie Rose: No, I don’t want you to give it to me.
35:36
Ok: All right.
35:38
Charlie Rose: This is the ”Everyday– Everybody” billboard — 42nd Street Development project.
35:40
Tibor Kalman: Right.
35:41
Charlie Rose: OK. Take a look at this. I mean, does that capture your attention or not?
35:44
Tibor Kalman: That’s a biggie.
35:45
Charlie Rose: Has chairs attached to it. The idea is that the street is you and you are the street. Is that it?
35:48
Tibor Kalman: Well–
35:49
Charlie Rose: ”Everybody.”
35:50
Tibor Kalman: Well, this was– I mean, I worked in two different parts of this project. This is an art project, actually, that was done under the auspices of Creative Time.
35:53
Charlie Rose: Oh, sure.
35:54
Tibor Kalman: And the rest of the project I worked on was a much more different project. It was about how to develop the street itself. But this is the art project. And what we try to do here is to send the message that we wanted this street– that this street belongs to everybody. And we put chairs there so that people could kind-of hang out if they want to. But we were very nasty about it because we put the chairs so that your toes would be about three inches off the ground. So, you’d kind-of have to trust it. And none of them fell down.
36:18
Charlie Rose: Is that right? Oh, man, that’s good. OK, the next one is ”Colors.” This is a whole different aspect of your life. Take a look at this. This is the magazine that you went over to Italy to edit from Benetton, right?
36:32
Tibor Kalman: But–
36:33
Charlie Rose: This is one of the most censored pictures in photographic history. (holds up a picture of a newborn)
36:38
Tibor Kalman: Right.
36:40
Charlie Rose: Some have rejected it as ugly, others as promoting abortion. What say you, Mr. Kalman?
36:45
Tibor Kalman: I think it’s a beautiful picture. But, you know, I didn’t take it. It wasn’t– it was not even my idea. It was the idea of this guy, Oliviera Toscani–
36:54
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
36:56
Tibor Kalman: –at Benetton, who was my boss on the magazine, but who didn’t boss me around very much, thank God. That’s the only way I can– I could really work.
37:01
Charlie Rose: OK, the next one here is Queen Elizabeth. (holds up a picture of Queen Elizabeth as a black person) Tell me about that.
37:07
Tibor Kalman: We did an issue on race. And I wanted us to try to create images that would somehow separate people and their race because you could look at the people differently in different races. So, what we tried to do was to try to figure out a way to change the races of people. What you’re supposed to do when you look at this picture is, ”How do you feel about Queen Elizabeth now?”
37:25
Charlie Rose: Now?
37:27
Tibor Kalman: Do you feel any differently about her? Do feel like there would be better music in Buckingham Palace? You know? Or that, you know, that she would dress better, even a little bit better. And these were very hard in those– these retouching things.
37:40
Charlie Rose: Now, did that– Is that what they wanted you to do? To come over there and shake things up? Or did they want to make a political statement? What did they want?
37:50
Tibor Kalman: They wanted an international magazine that young people would like, that was sort-of politically advance a little bit, like their advertising was.
37:56
Charlie Rose: Right.
37:58
Tibor Kalman: I wanted to do everything. I wanted to do an issue about racism. I wanted to do an issue about shopping.
38:03
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
38:05
Tibor Kalman: I wanted to sort-of, like, radical– you know, kind-of try to radicalize everybody about everything. This really annoyed people in England. And there was a big outrage, that actually showed, I think, the racism of the daily newspapers over there. They would have headlines that would use the word ”man.” Or, like, that– ”Benetton–” They would always blame Benetton, of course–
38:22
Charlie Rose: Right.
38:24
Tibor Kalman: –not knowing who we were. But they would always say things like, ”Benetton Paints the Queen Black.”
38:29
Charlie Rose: Ah.
38:31
Tibor Kalman: Really, like, revealing their own– I think, their own racism. And they put this issue– In the Daily Mail, on the– this picture on the front page, and it was sort-of, in a surprising way, we– It got more publicity than some of the photographs that Toscani took.
38:45
Charlie Rose: Well, I’m sure because– I mean, that’s what always happens.
38:49
Tibor Kalman: Right.
38:52
Charlie Rose: Once it becomes controversial, and people–
38:54
Tibor Kalman: I didn’t expect it. But it was really a huge outcry in England. There was one man that went around in a Rolls Royce painting the fronts of Benetton stores black. I mean– but that’s what– you know, that’s how he thought he would– ”Look, if you paint our queen black–”
39:06
Charlie Rose: ”We’ll paint your stores black.”
39:08
Tibor Kalman: ”Hello–”
39:10
Charlie Rose: ”Hello–”
39:11
Tibor Kalman: ”–I will paint your–”
39:13
Charlie Rose: ”–I’m here to paint your store black.”
39:14
Tibor Kalman: ”I’m here to paint you black.” You know? It’s like– It was like– So, what he was saying is, I guess, that we did a bad thing to the queen. You know?
39:20
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and it wasn’t that at all. You were just trying to say–
39:23
Tibor Kalman: Right.
39:24
Charlie Rose: –show you how perception is and reaction is to color.
39:26
Tibor Kalman: Right, yeah.
39:28
Charlie Rose: All right. Let me– let me move on because I– there is Spike Lee as a white man, correct?
39:32
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
39:33
Charlie Rose: So, therefore–
39:35
Tibor Kalman: Blue eyes.
39:36
Charlie Rose: Blue eyes.
39:37
Tibor Kalman: How would he look? How would that make you– Does he look weaker? Does he look nerdier? Does he look–
39:42
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
39:44
Tibor Kalman: –skinnier? Does he look smarter? You know, ”What is your personal perception of it?” is what we were after.
39:48
Charlie Rose: ”Just react” is what you’re after?
39:50
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
39:51
Charlie Rose: What do you think?
39:53
Tibor Kalman: Provocateur.
39:55
Charlie Rose: Yeah, provocateur. Now, what happened with– to Benetton? You–
40:00
Tibor Kalman: Well, they wanted– we had different plans. I would have been very happy to bring the magazine to New York. They wanted me to bring the magazine to Paris.
40:05
Charlie Rose: Yes?
40:06
Tibor Kalman: ‘Cause they said it should travel around the world, which was a lovely, lovely, wonderful idea when I was healthy.
40:11
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
40:12
Tibor Kalman: But, once I got–
40:14
Charlie Rose: You know, sick.
40:15
Tibor Kalman: I got sick–
40:16
Charlie Rose: You just– you didn’t want to travel in Paris.
40:18
Tibor Kalman: I kept thinking, like, ”I’m gonna have to talk to French doctors or else I’m gonna have to fly to New York to talk to American doctors every few weeks–”
40:22
Charlie Rose: Right.
40:24
Tibor Kalman: ”–or every few days.” So, it seemed like it would be hard.
40:27
Charlie Rose: Back to design, now. We’ll take a look at some more stuff here. But have you evolved as a designer? I mean, are you– are you at a certain point in the evolution today?
40:36
Tibor Kalman: Well, I’ve learned. I knew nothing at the beginning, when I did those windows at SBX.
40:42
Charlie Rose: Right.
40:44
Sbx Is A Forerunner Of Barnes & Noble: Sorry. So, I learned– every year I learned more. And I became a better designer, I believe. Yeah. Now, I’m sort of an anti-designer designer.
40:58
Charlie Rose: What’s that?
41:00
Tibor Kalman: Again, I guess– I’m an un-designer.
41:02
Charlie Rose: You’re the designer who hates design?
41:04
Tibor Kalman: No, it’s not that. I hate what design is. And–
41:10
Charlie Rose: Which is what? Selling and spending and–
41:12
Tibor Kalman: Selling and–
41:14
Charlie Rose: –creating falsehoods, et cetera?
41:16
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, yeah. I mean– I mean, look, part of it is boredom. I mean, I’ve done– I’ve done record covers. I’ve done CD covers. And I really don’t want to do any more. And these days–
41:24
Charlie Rose: What is it you want to do?
41:26
Tibor Kalman: Everything else that I haven’t done. I mean, I have some ideas. I have this secret museum project I’m planning.
41:31
Charlie Rose: Yeah, tell me about that. I don’t know too much about that.
41:35
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, it’s a secret. That’s why you done know too much. Now, you want me to tell you? No–
41:42
Charlie Rose: Yes, I do.
41:44
Tibor Kalman: No.
41:45
Charlie Rose: You don’t want to tell me?
41:47
Tibor Kalman: I really don’t want to tell you.
41:48
Charlie Rose: OK.
41:49
Tibor Kalman: I want to do a museum that’s really different. That’s really funny, has a sense of– Let me– I can tell you this about it.
41:53
Charlie Rose: All right.
41:54
Tibor Kalman: I’d like to do a museum that’s funny.
41:56
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
41:58
Tibor Kalman: That doesn’t have a permanent collection because it wouldn’t be an art museum. It would be a museum about the world. So–
42:05
Charlie Rose: Yeah, but what’s gonna be in the museum?
42:06
Tibor Kalman: Anything from bags of dirt from different countries–
42:10
Charlie Rose: Without fertilizer.
42:11
Tibor Kalman: Right, right. Hopefully. Or in plastic bags or something. To shoes, you know. I mean, I just want it to be–
42:18
Charlie Rose: Ordinary things?
42:20
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
42:21
Charlie Rose: That you will ennoble.
42:23
Tibor Kalman: A museum of the ordinary. But don’t you think the ordinary is sometimes fascinating?
42:26
Charlie Rose: Of course, but art’s full of that now, isn’t it?
42:29
Tibor Kalman: Art is full of that?
42:31
Charlie Rose: Yeah, the ordinary. Urine– urinals– sort of art.
42:34
Tibor Kalman: But that’s not ordinary. That’s– for art that’s extraordinary.
42:38
Charlie Rose: Oh, well, all right.
42:39
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
42:41
Charlie Rose: OK.
42:42
Tibor Kalman: I mean, for art, I mean, that’s about changing the context of things.
42:45
Charlie Rose: Right.
42:46
Tibor Kalman: And that does radicalize things in a way, and–
42:49
Charlie Rose: You’re primarily self-taught?
42:51
Tibor Kalman: Completely. I went to school in ’68. There were no– All the professors, like, walked out immediately– you know, or — like — left the classroom–
42:56
Charlie Rose: Right.
42:58
Tibor Kalman: –or were on the street or were giving all A’s.
43:00
Charlie Rose: Right.
43:01
Tibor Kalman: That’s when I got on the dean’s list.
43:03
Charlie Rose: That’s right. You could get on the dean’s list ’cause they gave everybody an A.
43:08
Tibor Kalman: Right. That was the only semester I got on the dean’s list.
43:10
Charlie Rose: I never went to any of those schools. What’s the significance of vernacular?
43:14
Tibor Kalman: I mean, to me– I’ve always loved things looking not the way they should.
43:19
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
43:22
Tibor Kalman: And, like, when I walk into a hardware store and I see an egg slicer with a really kinda ugly label, I find that more interesting that walking into a supermarket and seeing a really slickly designed spaghetti-sauce label.
43:38
Charlie Rose: What’s the difference than you and Andy Warhol.
43:45
Tibor Kalman: Well, Warhol– maybe in some ways, nothing, on this point, although we did have different fast-frames, I guess.
43:51
Charlie Rose: Yes.
43:54
Tibor Kalman: And nobody’s shot me yet.
43:56
Charlie Rose: Well–
43:58
Tibor Kalman: So, anyway– I mean, I think that–
44:00
Charlie Rose: But my question was the significance of vernacular.
44:04
Tibor Kalman: Well, the significance of vernacular– I mean, I still– I think I still come from a design background. And I sort-of embrace the things that have not been designed yet.
44:11
Charlie Rose: Right.
44:13
Tibor Kalman: I guess it’s that anti-design quality. I mean, I think that ugly– There was a certain point where I was trying to pursue beauty.
44:19
Charlie Rose: Right.
44:21
Tibor Kalman: And I guess I got sick of beauty. And then I got very interested in what is mundane and ordinary and things like that, and then even more interested in, like, what a shack looks like in the Caribbean.
44:29
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
44:31
Tibor Kalman: Or what the architecture of a shack in the Caribbean is. Or, like, what it looks like when a guy — also in the Caribbean ’cause I’ve been there a few times — takes his– takes his little gas station made out of cinderblocks and paints the word ”gas,” you know, really big with a roller. And I think that’s a great sign for a gas station — ”Gas” — you know? Just painted on the side of a wall. And that kind– I love that– maybe ’cause I am a designer. I’ve seen so many nice things– that I like this stuff that’s called ”vernacular,” whether it’s architecture — like in a shack — or whether it’s graphics — like the ”gas” sign that I just described. I think that– even though I think the ”Mobil”– the ”Mobil” logo is really a beautiful modernist logo — done by the same people who did the MoMA logo.
45:18
Charlie Rose: Right.
45:19
Tibor Kalman: The Museum of Modern Art?
45:21
Charlie Rose: Right.
45:23
Tibor Kalman: I just find– I mean, I know that those are beautiful, but I also love this other thing about the gas station — you know? — of just some guy. And that’s what vernacular is, just some person having to do something that they have plenty of time to do and that they can’t afford to have done by someone else. And sometimes that works– comes out very beautiful because they spent a lot of time on it. Like, there’s certain sorts of packages that you find in the supermarket that you feel have been designed by the cousin of the– or they were commissioned by the chairman of the company 25 years ago, when they just didn’t know any better about focus groups and all that other boring stuff about package design right now.
46:00
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
46:02
Tibor Kalman: Now, packages are what people expect them to be, I guess. And the thing about vernacular is that there were no expectations.
46:11
Charlie Rose: Why did you dissolve the firm in 1991?
46:14
Tibor Kalman: Because I really wanted to– I had done a few issues of Colors in New York. I really loved it. I had 30 people working for me, which is stupid. There were 15 people on Colors and 15 people at M & Company, including the people that made and sold the watches and all those things that we used to make and that we still do make. And Toscani came to me and said, ”Look, I know you really love to do Colors.”
46:40
Charlie Rose: Right.
46:42
Tibor Kalman: ”Why don’t you close this stupid studio and come with me? And I’ll send you to Rome.”
46:48
Charlie Rose: Right.
46:50
Tibor Kalman: ”And I’ll give you a big, fat salary.”
46:51
Charlie Rose: This is the guy who’s head of Benetton, right?
46:53
Tibor Kalman: Yeah– No, this is the guy that’s the creative director of Benetton.
46:57
Charlie Rose: OK. Oliviera–
46:59
Tibor Kalman: Incredibly powerful–
47:00
Charlie Rose: Yeah, and he said–
47:01
Tibor Kalman: Because he doesn’t do anything.
47:03
Charlie Rose: Yeah, so he said, ”Come to Rome. Sell the company, come to Rome.”
47:05
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
47:07
Charlie Rose: Or pack it up.
47:08
Tibor Kalman: And he said, ”Why do you need this studio? I mean– so, come to Rome. I’ll give you a salary. I’ll give you enough money to get a nice apartment.”
47:13
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
47:15
Tibor Kalman: ”Bring your family, and we’ll make” — in fact, he left it to me– in fact, what he should have said– the truth would have been, ”You’ll have to make Colors in Rome.” And I thought, ”God, what a great deal.” I called Myra.
47:24
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
47:26
Tibor Kalman: She said ”yes” on the phone.
47:28
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
47:30
Tibor Kalman: Didn’t take very long.
47:31
Charlie Rose: Well, she’s smart.
47:33
Tibor Kalman: We had the–
47:35
Charlie Rose: It seemed like a great thing to do at the time.
47:36
Tibor Kalman: Yeah– no, it was. It was the most romantic thing we ever did. You know? And I guess the mistake that I made is that I had been to Rome as a tourist and seen these– well, I guess I said this before–
47:47
Charlie Rose: Yes?
47:48
Tibor Kalman: –seen these people rushing, thinking, ”Oh.”
47:50
Charlie Rose: Computers, technology. You mentioned the fact that a lot of design is computers today and it has a sameness to it. Correct?
47:56
Tibor Kalman: Yeah, I think so.
47:57
Charlie Rose: Yeah. So, you don’t think much of it?
48:02
Tibor Kalman: Well, I think it’s used in the wrong way, especially by designers. I think that the way you use a computer is that you come up with a really good idea, you kind of figure it out on paper, and then you go to the computer because the problem with a computer if you start drawing on it, or you start trying to do your design on it right away is that a computer only knows how to say ”yes” and ”no.” And it gives a very precise–
48:22
Charlie Rose: Sure.
48:24
Tibor Kalman: I mean, it’s very good tool for making a straight line, but it’s not a good tool if you’re trying to make a crooked line and you’re not sure where it’s supposed to go. The thing I like about a pencil and paper is, when you draw something, especially the way I draw it, you can’t really tell what it is. And it’s kind of open to interpretation. But in a computer– even what I did in the computer, which would ultimately be using a word program, would be ”a, b, c, d, e,” you know? And it’s too precise– It’s just too precise a tool for general design or for creativity in my opinion. And I always can see the kind of– the tracks of the computer in the– in some of the bad work that I see. I see it’s bad because they started on the computer. And you can see all the stairsteps or whatever that they did with (crosstalk)–
49:15
Charlie Rose: There must be some happy medium on that, though.
49:17
Tibor Kalman: I think the happy medium is what I’ve just described, what I guess no one else thinks, though. And maybe just a– I mean, I used to rubber cement mechanicals. So– and spec type and do things– antique kind of– that are now thought to be antique and that are not taught anymore. And so maybe it’s a condition of my age. I just can’t see the computer properly, maybe. Maybe I just don’t understand that aesthetic.
49:39
Charlie Rose: All right.
49:42
Tibor Kalman: So, it might be that. I mean, maybe all these kids who are doing work that I think is stupid and ambiguous and ugly–
49:48
Charlie Rose: Maybe they know something.
49:50
Tibor Kalman: Maybe they know what’s goin’ on.
49:52
Charlie Rose: All right. Let’s get to a couple more slides. One is– this is a– the Ronald Reagan as the AIDS martyr. This is a photo which is part of the issue on AIDS.
50:01
Tibor Kalman: Yeah.
50:03
Charlie Rose: It expresses irony since, as an AIDS martyr that could have been, but wasn’t. And the notion was that– I guess Reagan reached out and was– What’s the point?
50:13
Tibor Kalman: Well, my point was that you only really understood AIDS if a friend of yours had it.
50:17
Charlie Rose: Ah.
50:19
Tibor Kalman: So, I tried to find someone that was familiar to a lot of people around the world and give them AIDS.
50:23
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
50:25
Tibor Kalman: You know, with retouching.
50:27
Charlie Rose: Then you’d understand it because it touched somebody you knew.
50:31
Tibor Kalman: And you’d actually say, ”Oh.” I mean, ”Oh, that would be horrible.”
50:34
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
50:36
Tibor Kalman: And then now you understand that it’s a little more horrible than you think. And, along with this, we wrote a kind of a fake obituary for Reagan. And we said, ”He was such a wonderful guy. He always talked about AIDS. He got everybody to– he got the schools to give out condoms.”
50:50
Charlie Rose: Right.
50:53
Tibor Kalman: He made the government agencies all available–
50:57
Charlie Rose: This is what you said in the obituary–
50:58
Tibor Kalman: –for AIDS education. Yeah.
51:00
Charlie Rose: This is sort of an obituary you wished you could have written.
51:03
Tibor Kalman: Right, yeah.
51:04
Charlie Rose: Right.
51:05
Tibor Kalman: And the–
51:06
Charlie Rose: Not because you wanted him dead, but because you wanted to create the notion of things that he hadn’t done.
51:09
Tibor Kalman: Right. And so– and then we sort-of ended it, like, that ”the real tragedy is that of all the people that did so much to fight AIDS he died of it.”
51:15
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
51:16
Tibor Kalman: They did not like this in California– in the California White House or–
51:21
Charlie Rose: I’m sure they didn’t.
51:24
Tibor Kalman: In the California state press release, they said that Benetton was just trying to use– was just trying to use Reagan’s image to sell sweaters.
51:33
Charlie Rose: Next slide– The Chairman– this is a book of Roof– of Rolf Fehlbaum, right, the chairman of the Swiss furniture company, which is Vitra. Correct?
51:42
Tibor Kalman: Right. Not only is he the chairman, he is a chair man.
51:46
Charlie Rose: Yeah, he’s a chair man.
51:47
Tibor Kalman: I guess this is a pretty weird picture for a book, but–
51:52
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
51:53
Tibor Kalman: But nevertheless it’s a really fat book and it’s a little, little book.
51:56
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
51:58
Tibor Kalman: And we thought that, since he was the chairman of that company, that we could make a book about him with pictures–
52:03
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
52:05
Tibor Kalman: –that we could also call Chairman.
52:07
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
52:08
Tibor Kalman: Because he collects and makes chairs. And so, once it was– once we were brave enough to call it Chairman, we made it look like the little red book of Chairman Mao.
52:15
Charlie Rose: How big is it?
52:17
Tibor Kalman: It’s about– It’s about the size of a– I’m sorry– I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s about six inches high.
52:26
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
52:28
Tibor Kalman: And about four inches wide, and about– and about– but about three inches thick.
52:32
Charlie Rose: All right. Let’s take a look at the last slide we have. This is your wife’s portrait of you. Take a look at this. And it shows what are — in her view — some of the things ”you don’t know” — ”you,” all of us — don’t know about you. Her message on the portrait is, ”He’s the coolest. He’s the kookiest. He’s the smartest cat in town.”
52:52
Tibor Kalman: Well, she’s my wife. I mean, what’s she supposed to say in my book. No, this is– yeah. Don’t you think it looks just like me?
53:00
Charlie Rose: Oh, you’re handsome there.
53:01
Tibor Kalman: She’s such a realistic illustrator, isn’t she? If I took off this vest–
53:06
Charlie Rose: Thank you, Tibor.
53:08
Tibor Kalman: Thank you.
53:09
Charlie Rose: Pleasure to have you on the program.
53:12
Tibor Kalman: Thanks very much.
53:13
Charlie Rose: Very much. My friend.
53:17
Ok: Great to see you.
53:19
Tibor Kalman: Thanks. Thanks, Charlie. And pervert.
53:23
Charlie Rose: –contrarian, and the ”coolest cat in town.” Thank you for joining us.