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New Brands From Old Masters

By Drew Letendre

As I was admiring the new logo for the 2016 Rio Olympics by the Brazilian firm Tátil Design de Ideias, I was haunted by the afterimage of a celebrated impressionist masterwork — Matisse’s 1909 painting, The Dance, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

If one places the Rio brand logo with its three abstract human figures side by side with Matisse’s image of five nude dancers — both arranged as a ring, a hand-to-hand ‘chain work’ — the formal resemblances are striking (overlay them and they’re even more striking — see below).

Rio Logos

The point of this is not to level a charge of plagiarism at Tátil Design de Ideias’ work (or even insinuate it). Hardly. It may even be that they were blithely unaware of this particular Matisse image. It may be that it operated — as such images often do — at that unconscious level, where the ‘memory store’ of images from an artistic tradition dwells and inspires thematic variation and invention. But even as a deliberate strategy of poetic quotation, it doesn’t suffer for lack of originality or visual wit.

Rio Logo Matisse

And that is really my point: that the history of art (Western and otherwise) is and should remain a store house of elegant visual motifs that designers can liberally ‘quote’ to inspire their work and inform its greatness. Ask Michaelangelo, if you will, of his debt to Donatello.

So, whether by unconscious inspiration or ‘by design’ (intention), Henri Matisse and the visual experiments of French Impressionism have reappeared (thanks to TDI) in early 21st century Rio and soon on the screens, apparel, and banners of the world.

I cannot now recall who framed the rhetorical (and premature) obituary on tradition — ‘The Dead Hand of the Past’ — but it would appear that tradition’s brush and chisel (and therefore its hand) are alive and well, as well they should be. For that tradition is nothing less than a majestic palette and pattern book for the inspiration of the artists and designers of today and tomorrow. And its fruits are on display in Brazil.

Read related posts surrounding the Rio 2016 Olympic logo and past Olympic logos.