October 31, 2011

Graphic Design: Now in Production

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending five days at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, installing our piece Set Top Box at Graphic Design: Now in Production. I’d never been to the Walker before and found it to be an excellent destination.

Walking through the show feels like walking inside the extruded pages of a well-designed magazine. You’re excited to turn to the next page, but you’re happy to sit and gaze wide-eyed at any one spread. The Walker design team is stellar. In fact, the Walker staff is amazing on all fronts—from the workmanship of the exhibition furniture to the A/V crew to the curation staff. Professional and friendly.

The show is an impressive collection of work, spanning many mediums and temperaments, with a focus on typography. There is a mix of design and artwork that uses graphic design as its medium. I was reminded of the accessibility of artwork that looks like design. It has the power to lure people with an aesthetic language they are familiar with, and then deliver a deeper message. Of course, there is always the risk that the viewer walks away, satisfied by a quicky, without letting the real power of the work sink in. However, the pretty face often keeps people around long enough to feel the real punch.

I found myself returning to a few of the pieces. Ben Fry’s Origin of Species piece was presented in both digital and printed form. The annotated manuscript was blown up and printed on tall panels hanging on the wall. I’d enjoyed the piece online before, but in this form it had a visceral impact I’d never experienced from it. I was physically drawn into the universe of the text.

Our piece shared a room with the movie and TV credit reels, so I got to know them quite well. (There’s a strange yet comforting familiarity that comes with watching and listening to something loop over a hundred times.) Credits are a unique platform for design. The thing that always gets me is the combination of typography and music. Whatever it is trying to express, the emotive power of the moving type is exploded and amplified by the soundtrack. It takes on the qualities of a dance, and I often felt a strong kinesthetic response as I watched the credits.

I was also inspired by Daniel Eatock’s minimal artist talk and his playful approach to making work. From the minimal posters of Albert Exergian and Anthony Burrill to the dense Twitter visualizations of Lust to the robot-mediated drawings of Jurg Lehni and Alex Rich, my imagination was set ablaze by the range of processes and sensibilities represented in the show.

Congratulations and thanks to the curators, lead by Andrew Blauvelt and Ellen Lupton. Both Andrew and Ellen have a unique thumb on the pulse of graphic design. And it is deeply reassuring to work with people so on top of their game with such playful and humble spirits.

Graphic Design: Now in Production will tour over the next three years, making stops in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Winston-Salem. Check it out if it’s in your neighborhood. We are honored to be a part of the show.