GRAPHIC DESIGN IN THE WHITE CUBE
CONCEPT / DESIGN BRIEF / INVITED DESIGNERS / GALLERY / CITY / BOOK
Text by Peter Bilak
(excerpt from the catalogue)
Organizing graphic design exhibitions is always problematic: graphic design does not exist in a vacuum, and the walls of the exhibition space effectively isolate the work of design from the real world. Placing a book, a music album, or a poster in a gallery removes it from the cultural, commercial, and historical context without which the work cannot be understood. The entire raison d’être of the work is lost as a side effect of losing the context of the work, and the result is frozen appearance stripped of meaning, liveliness and dynamism of use. In spite of this, it is more and more common to see design as ‘object’, not only in books and magazines, but also in the ‘white cube’ of the exhibition space.

Graphic design, because of its ubiquitous nature, makes a considerable impact on the visual culture that surrounds us, so it makes a lot of sense to study this influence and critically discuss the work in the context of other visual arts as well. When presented in a museum however, the exhibition should attempt more than just passive presentation in glass cases. The isolated work lacks any real information about the reasons and processes behind it. What needs to become evident is the explicit purpose of the work, to see things otherwise inaccessible, otherwise the visitor is better off going to any bookstore or strolling down a busy street to get first hand experience of and physical interaction with graphic design.

So it is in this context that we set to organize another graphic design exhibition. Being extremely self-conscious, we propose a possibility: instead of bringing work from the outside to the gallery, let’s make the work for the gallery. Instead of recreating the context for the exhibits, let’s make the gallery conditions the context for the work. Nineteen designers and collectives were commissioned to design a poster for the design exhibition in which they participate. The posters will function on two levels: the collection of posters is to constitute the exhibition, and copies of the posters will be spread around the city to inform visitors about the exhibition. This is obviously a dangerous snake-eating-its-own-tail strategy, yet the self-referential nature of the brief makes it possible to illustrate otherwise invisible mechanics of the work process.

The usual conditions of design are created in the gallery: designers were directly commissioned to make the poster in four weeks’ time, were offered a (minimal) design fee, and were asked to treat the commission just like any other projects they work on. What is perhaps unusual about the exhibition is that it makes some invisible components visible. The original brief of the project is dominantly presented in the exhibition, as are all sketches that the designers made. The objective is not to lionize the work, or create easy material for value judgment, but to uncover the process of work, presenting all the sketches that designers made, including those not leading anywhere. Failures can provide more information about visual art more than just a presentation of its successes.

Our strategy for the exhibition was to strip the design process of its deceptive aura, propose a possible format for design exhibitions, and yet present everything that a visitor to a graphic design show might expect.

© 2006