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Elaine Lustig Cohen b. Elaine Firstenberg, was a New York based artist, graphic designer, archivist, and rare book dealer. At the start of her art career in the late 1960s, Lustig Cohen created hard-edged, vibrantly colored geometric abstractions which reflected her modernist architectural aesthetic. By the 1990s, her work had evolved into lively, playful compositions that incorporated collage, photography and typography and reflected her ever-expanding curiosity about history, art, literature, and nature.  

Lustig Cohen studied art at Sophie Newcomb College, in New Orleans, and transferred to the University of Southern California, where she received a bachelor’s degree in art education in 1948. While in Los Angeles, she met her first husband, design pioneer Alvin Lustig. He introduced her to graphic design and after his death at the age of 40 in 1955, she took over his design practice. Her first solo project was designing the signage for Phillip Johnson’s Seagram building, which opened in 1958.   


Lustig Cohen soon established herself as one of the leading female designers working in New York in the 1950s. She had a prolific and respected career, designing dozens of book covers, catalogs and logos for clients such as Meridian books, the Museum of Primitive Art, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the 1964 World’s Fair. In addition, she was responsible for shaping the institutional graphic identity for the Jewish Museum.  

In the late 60s, Lustig Cohen closed her design business to devote more time to her art, which was shown in the 1970s by John Bernard Myers Gallery and Galerie Denise René. In 1979, she was the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery. In the 1980s, she had exhibitions at Janus Gallery in Los Angeles and Exit Art in New York. The Julie Saul Gallery represented her throughout the 90s and early 2000s. In 2014, Lustig Cohen’s exhibition at P! introduced her early work to a new generation. In 2016, her paintings were exhibited at Phillip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT and in 2018 the Jewish Museum honored her with an exhibition of her painting and design work.  

In 1973, Lustig Cohen and her second husband, Arthur A. Cohen, author and founder of Meridian Books, opened Ex Libris, an antiquarian bookstore specializing in avant-garde twentieth century art and architecture.  

Lustig Cohen saw art and design as separate but equal practices, which she developed simultaneously.  Her own words, spoken in 2012, best summarize her life: “What is great about being an artist – painter, designer, sculptor, photographer or in other visual media – is that throughout your life you can keep opening doors that you never knew existed.”  

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