The great disappearing museum logo mystery

I'm a longtime fan - and, when I remember, a paying member - of the Portland Art Museum. I've been visiting the galleries and exhibitions for nearly 40 years.

I always liked the look of the old PAM logo, with its Greek key icon. The design was clean, simple, classic and "museum-like."

With the major renovations of the museum facility over the past few years, it was not surprising that a new identity, and rebranding effort, were to come. This last year I remember getting a museum mailing sporting a new logo image. My immediate response was "Eeewww!" (That's a professional graphic design term for "Oh no, this is just not going to work!") A second, more critical, look at the fugly new symbol brought about thoughts that the logo made the viewer work too hard in attempting to read the actual name "Portland Art Museum."

The design was trying to be too clever for its own good. Most viewers were going to read the identity as PORT LAND MUSEUM. The letters that supposedly make up the word "ART" were not in the right order as most people read - the result is "RT A." My impression was that many people seeing the logo would completely miss the somewhat hidden, misspelled "ART" treatment, and I just don't remember anyone ever referring to the art exhibition structure as the "Portland Museum." It's always been labeled by its full name or the abbreviated "PAM."

This past November I came across the blog PORT article Welcoming PAM's new chief, in which artist/writer Jeff Jahn suggested a possible museum plan of action to new director Brian Ferriso. I was giggling to myself as I came across the "Short Term Fix" that read: "What is with the new museum logo? In a city with so many designers this just doesn't cut it."

Hmmm...I was not alone in my thoughts on the image.

And then the logo seemed to disappear. I hadn't seen it again during the several months since my initial strong reaction to its appearance.

While at the beach this past weekend I was catching up on my newspaper and magazine reading. I was flipping through the latest issue of Willamette Week and there was the "missing in action" PORT LAND MUSEUM logo - with the caption PAM LOGO SPURNED: Found buried on the art museum's website. The supporting text, in the Arts & Culture section's SCOOP - Gossip Should Have No Friends column read:

"LOGO NO-GO Nothing wrong with museums wanting to put their best face forward with a fancy-shmancy logo—which is why insiders say Portland Art Museum spent tens of thousands of dollars in 2005-2006 redesigning and relaunching their new brand (which, if you ask Scoop, is just plain hard to read). Apparently new PAM Exec Director Brian Ferriso agrees, which is why they say he's decided to chuck the logo and spend even more bucks for yet another new PAM logo to be unveiled in the next year or two."

Well, that explains the mystery of the logo that is no more. The image seems to have been banished to the island of unwanted logos - or perhaps logo hell. I had a really tough time finding an example of it to post in this bLog-oMotives entry. (It is in use on this web page.) The Portland Art Museum seems to be having a major identity crisis.

The continuing design journey to find the eventual identity for the new and improved PAM should be interesting.

Update Note - 04.04.07: Read more about this and related issues on the blog NameWire

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives


Jeff Fisher LogoMotives said...

Just a reminder that I don't accept anonymously submitted comments to any of my bLog-oMotives entries. If an individual doesn't have a link to a public profile, or submit thoughts under their legitimate name, I will not publish. I also don't publish comments that are anonymous attempts to post a commercial link within a message. In part, I had to adopt this policy due to my experience with another blogger. I'm sorry if this policy annoys some people - but it's just a reality of bLog-oMotives.

morealyera said...

hmm, I quite liked the original. Thanks for the scoop - it was an enlightening read.