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THE WORK OF DONALD MOFFETT and Marlene McCarty's renegade design firm, Bureau, is, well, not your average stuff. In fact, it's as likely to be screaming from a graffiti covered wall as to appear in an opening for a trendy downtown art gallery. So when a cosmetics king like Clinique called and asked for their portfolio, the Bureau principals thought there must be some mistake. In an effort to clear up any confusion, they sent over instead a clip from ID magazine's roundup of 40 leading designers that pictured the pair in their part-time roles of political activists, toting shotguns like a couple of militants. "Are you sure?" they wrote on a note attached to the photo.

"I think that's their barometer," says Marianne Diorio, VP-public relations at Clinique, who hired the New York firm for press event promotions. "It shows they think alternatively, yet they're also extremely cooperative to work with. I don't think the picture reflects that."

"They just pull things out of the air," says Ann Philbin, director of the Drawing Center in New York, a Bureau exhibitor that has also hired the firm for design promotions. "When you sit down with them in a meeting, you're always surprised."

Former members of Gran Fury, an AIDS activist collective, McCarty, 36, and Moffett, 38, met while plotting AIDS awareness media blitzes, such as the controversial 1989 "Kissing Doesn't Kill" campaign, which showed same-sex couples smooching on billboards and posters. It created an uproar in cities like Chicago, where the City Council tried to ban it; the TV version never made it past local gay cable in the U.S., finally airing on MTV in South America and Europe. That was the year they turned their after-hours collaboration into the full-time gig they call Bureau, with McCarty leaving M & Co. after two years and Moffett giving up a partnership in LaPlaca Moffett Design, which specialized in corporate reports and brochures. Activist overtones still resonate in their projects today, in the form of predictably bold graphics and type treatments paired with unorthodox imagery: An opening for fashion designer Geoffrey Beene's retrospective film, "30," directed by Tom Kalin, is a catchy montage of b&w clips; CD covers and ads for Arista Records' AIDS-aware "No Alternative" compilation employ block type and neon colors; and a Clinique cleansers promotion addresses pollution concerns, with product samples and a press release encased in a glass jar labeled "clean air." A series of Princeton University architecture anthologies, cheekily titled "Architecture Pathologies," looks like a mix between a kid's sticker book and a self-help text: the books are covered in embossed foil with cookie cutter-shaped stickers on which are printed title themes like "Lies" "Ugly" and "Normal."

"It doesn't have to be a lot," explains McCarty, pointing out the simple shapes and color scheme. "But it has to work. Everything has to be there to suck you in." Addressing what they perceive to be social injustice through after-hours projects is an


Bureau, a small New York design firm that contains activist cultures, may be an acquired taste, but its principals are making some mainstream inroads with their politics intact

Bureau draws: an Atlantic Records ad for the New Music Seminar; the controversial Allen Schindler posters; and a populist pitch, ultimately declined, for repositioning the Cooper-Hewitt Museum

Plugging new music on the Elektra label for the MTV crowd

A poster and performance calendar for the Kitchen Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and a promotion for Headquarters, the commercials production company

essential tenet of the firm. For example, McCarty collaborates with the Women's Action Coalition, a radical feminist group, and exhibits her art at Metro Pictures gallery in New York. With a degree from a Swiss design school, McCarty has worked in both art and design fields, spending three years with the graphic design department at the Museum of Modern Art before moving to M & Co. Moffett has degrees in art and biology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

For the last three years they've taught a graduate course at Yale called Community Action, in which students must identify a cause, raise money and complete a design project within the course of the term. "One of the guiding principles of Bureau from its inception was to push, develop and further mature the whole activist voice," Moffett explains, citing how they helped raise $2.5 million with brochures and stationery for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, whose facilities assist gay and lesbian youth. "It's kind of like grown-up activism," McCarty adds. Even their name and working style-with a staff of five, credit for projects is always shared by all the members of the firm-connotes the collective nature of groups like Gran Fury and Act Up. "We wanted to keep it generic, completely open and negotiable," Moffett says, adding, "we love the automatic authority it confers."

And while they insist they've toned down their activism, when the right cause rumbles along they don't hesitate to hit the streets with vociferous posters. When they were invited last year to participate in the 42nd Street Art Project, a group of art installations meant to embellish the seedy Times Square area, they created diptych posters that blasted the military's ban on gays. Set against blue and white stripes, one featured a small photo of Allen R. Schindler, a murdered Navy seaman, coupled with the headline "To die for." The other showed a photo of his accused assailant, Terry M. Helvey, against a red background and text that wrapped around his oval picture reading:"Helvey stalked Schindler into a public toilet and beat him (to death) because he was a homosexual."

The posters were rejected by the judging committee led by Tibor Kalman, Colors magazine creative director and formerly head of M & Co, says Moffett and McCarty, because it was too political. But Kalman, who's now based in Rome, disagrees. He says that other artists in the show dealt with gay issues and politics, but Bureau's effort was "arrogant" and "one-sided."

Bureau branded the rejection "censorship," and launched a guerrilla-style counterattack, plastering the posters around Manhattan and hiring a group of women, dressed in formal attire, to hand the beribboned posters to unsuspecting journalists as they arrived at the project's opening gala in July. "It's at moments like that you come to see the power of design," McCarty says. "It can actually start conversations, discussions, dialogue."

"Part of graphic design has been chained to a service role," Moffett adds. "Bureau has never been about that. We've been about finding, negotiating and

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