5 of the best global graphic design-related exhibitions showing right now

1. Eduardo Paolozzi — Lance Wyman — Metro: Art at Velocity

Bloomberg Space: London, May 19 — August 5 2017

Two titans of design for public transport, Eduardo Paolozzi and Lance Wyman, are presented together in this fascinating little east London show that compares and contrasts their work for London’s Underground system and Mexico City’s Metro respectively.

What’s interesting is that Paolozzi is firmly in the fine art world, most renowned for his convergence of pop art tropes and classical sculpture techniques; while Wyman is a commercial graphic designer and one of the finest pioneers of icon design in the 20th and 21st centuries. Yet their bold, color-packed designs for public space strive for broadly the same things: though Wyman’s must achieve legibility and functionality and Paolozzi’s have more decorative goals, both ultimately look to bring a little joy to the pain of metro travel.

It’s a treat to see the sketches for Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road station mosaic, and the maquette models where his ideas were planned out in miniature 3D. Wyman’s sketchbooks are also on show, and provide some fascinating insights into the process of a mammoth design project that saw him also create arguably the best Olympics logo of all time, in the form of Mexico 1968, and some deliciously trippy pattern-based football works.

2. Prints in Paris 1900: From Elite to the Street

Van Gogh Museum: Amsterdam, 3 March — 11 June 2017

If you thought that turn of the century Parisian prints were all about that black cat your Aunty has on a fridge magnet, or that picture of a lady doing the cancan often spotted in gastro pub toilets, think again.

Prints in Paris does of course include posters like Le Chat Noir and Le Moulin Rouge, but it covers far wider-reaching territory and in doing so tells far larger narratives about class divisions, art collecting, and the birth of modern consumer culture as we know it. The show is divided into two distinct sections of Parisian fin-de-siècle posters: those created or collected specifically for the interiors of bourgeois homes, and those made to advertise on the streets. What we see is how this period blurred art, graphics, illustration, and advertising like never before: suddenly the use of text and imagery for communication vs. for fine art merged.

Though it’s fantastic to see the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec’s gorgeously emotive yet much reproduced images of a downtrodden female clown, we see the other side of Parisian prints too, in those produced only for private home collections. Here, they were stored in large, decorative book-like folders, and only visible only to those who invited in. As such, they could be far darker and erotically charged.

3. Bauhaus in Motion

Bauhaus Archiv: Berlin, March 1 2017 — January 8 2018

Ahead of construction work beginning next year to expand the Bauhaus Archiv museum, the site is presenting highlights from its collection themed around the idea of “movement.” This is tackled in both literal ways, such as in the Bauhaus school’s Motion Studies, and in more abstract ways such as in movement’s place in mediums and disciplines including graphic arts, architecture, furniture design, ceramics, metalwork, and painting.

A selection of gorgeous photographs document the movements of Bauhaus students and staff, sometimes in choreographed ways or as part of the machinations of their work; at others in the sense of the school’s own relocations from Weimar to Dessau and Berlin, and “to the point of exile.” World-famous Bauhaus teachers (Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy) as well as numerous students are represented.

4. Concrete Poetry: Words and Sounds in Graphic Space

Getty Center: Los Angeles, March 28 — July 30 2017

While graphic design’s merging of text and imagery is most often seen in its commercial purposes, for advertising, branding, posters, editorial, and so forth; this exhibition shows how layout and lettering inform literature too, in the form of concrete poetry.

For the uninitiated, concrete poetry sees language and typography form shapes that work together with the linguistics of the text to convey meaning. The visual representations are as important as the language itself in communication and indicating significance within the piece.

The Getty’s show draws mainly on the Getty Research Institute’s collection of prints, artists’ books, journals, and manuscripts documenting the international concrete poetry movement, focusing on the visual, verbal, and sonic experiments of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Poetry by the likes of poetry pioneers Augusto de Campos and Ian Hamilton Finlay is on show alongside work by Henri Chopin, Ernst Jandl, Mary Ellen Solt, and Emmett Williams. According to Getty, “Concrete Poetry explores how these artists invented new forms such as cube poems and standing poems and continuously re-created their projects across media.”

5. California: Designing Freedom

Design Museum: London, May 24 — October 15 2017

Bringing a little slab of California sunshine to the oft-grey streets of old London town, California: Designing Freedom traces the story of Californian design from the 1960s and its countercultural influences to today’s Silicon Valley tech output.

While these two worlds — one loosely connected to the earth, lysergic leanings, and one another; one characterized by shiny on-screen slickness — may seem at odds, what the exhibition looks to prove is the similarities between the two. After all, one of tech’s more utopian goals is to bring us closer together — and countercultural hippieishness prized community above all. Another shared aim of the movements is personal liberty. But how did design connect the two?

“The central premise is that California has pioneered tools of personal liberation, from LSD to surfboards and iPhones,” says the Design Museum. “This ambitious survey brings together political posters and portable devices, but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the San Francisco Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences. By turns empowering, addictive and troubling, Californian products have affected our lives to such an extent that in some ways we are all now Californians.”



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