Graphic Ascension

The use of good design to entice audiences along to exhibitions has long been part of the art galleries undercover toolkit. In recent years this has become an even more critical conduit with the takeover of traditional promotional methods in favour of digital platforms and social media. 

Superette exhibition poster. Image courtesy of Skinroom

While graphic design has long been considered a means to an end – within the art gallery context it can be an integral part of the exhibition development process. Ensuring that potential audiences are both captured and partially informed by the graphic identity of an exhibition is no small feat and as many galleries have discovered can often be hit and miss.

In a broader context a gallery's approach to graphic design can also position them as an institution – are they cool, obtuse, academic or conservative. A potential visitor’s impression of the type of gallery they are visiting is directly related to the the way it, or an exhibition, is graphically represented.

With many galleries choosing to work with some of the countries top designers it is no surprise that these spaces have become incubators for some of the most cutting edge campaigns and innovative initiatives.

Conscious of all of the great work galleries throughout the country are doing, W.E. thought it was great timing to feature a couple of the standouts of the moment.

The Hive Hums With Many Minds exhibition graphic. File courtesy of Te Tuhi

Te Tuhi is a nationally significant contemporary art gallery located in Pakuranga, Auckland. With a programme almost exclusively committed to commissioning new projects by artists from New Zealand and internationally, there is an obvious focus on reflecting contemporary practice in all of its many facets.

Recent projects have showcased the gallery’s interest in combining a challenging exhibition programme with a dynamic and integrated graphic identity. They have won awards for their publications and look set to be one of the leading Auckland public galleries in terms of their sophisticated approach to exhibition development and design.

W.E. became obsessed with these clever GIF graphics for the recent Te Tuhi exhibition The Hive Hums With Many Minds (Parts 1 and 2). This design not only caught our eye with its retro 80s video game strobe effect but also managed to communicate some of the shows concepts with clarity and presence. With the exhibition spread across two venues (Pakuranga and Silo Park, Central Auckland) there were ample opportunities for audiences to use the striking masthead to connect the shows and also as a bit of a way finding tool.

Unstuck in Time publications. Image courtesy of Te Tuhi and Sam Hartnett

An earlier project, Unstuck in Time seems to have had a consistent slow burn thanks to the integrated approach to graphic design. Although the exhibition was on display at the gallery way back in 2014 the limited edition publication that both supported the exhibition and was also a stand alone project won Te Tuhi the Museums Australasia Multimedia & Publication Design Award 2016 for Best Major Exhibition Catalogue. Described as both progressive and ground breaking, (the judges actual words were ‘pushes typographical boundaries’), this 200 page publication is a book, artwork and exhibition all rolled into one!

Te Tuhi curator Bruce E. Phillips says "For me graphic design can be a great way to establish initial expectations for an exhibition so it is imperative that the designer takes time to understand the artist's work and becomes conceptually engaged with the exhibition. I think that graphic design should be considered an accompanying artwork in the show and the designer should be respected alongside artists with almost a similar degree of creative freedom. Being able to communicate clearly to a designer is also important because after all they are not mind readers – concisely written briefs, mood boards and regular conversations is imperative. It has been great working with Kalee Jackson over the years because she is so versatile. She can adopt a restrained minimalist approach for something like the Santiago Sierra show and then be more wildly experimental with something like THE HIVE HUMS...exhibition."

Twister exhibition poster. Image courtesy of Skinroom.

Hidden away in the Hamilton suburb of Frankton is Skinroom, a gallery space run by Geoff Clarke and Eliza Webster. Initiated as a pop-up in 2013 the gallery has since moved to a more permanent home. Showing a mixture of experimental contemporary art practice predominantly from Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington and Chengdu City, Skinroom has come to represent the underground art scene of the Tron. Their exhibition posters and collateral are all designed by Clarke and hark back to retro music poster design thats relies on graphic devices, typography and illustration as opposed to photographic imagery. 

Clarke says "the graphic design I develop for these projects strives to create visibly memorable concepts that complement the practice in the shows. In terms of my general approach to design, I use the concept of "form of life", or "language game", and the concept of "family resemblance" derived from the philosopher Wittgenstein as a methodology. This allows me a warrantable relativity and reciprocity towards the existing visual culture and values in any one context. The selection of imagery shown here appropriates and repurposes many of the pattern and graphic elements and typography from, Academic texts cover jackets from the 60s 70s and 80s, Op Art , Hard-Edge Abstraction, 60s Package Design, Neo Geo Abstraction, and Pop Or Post-Modern Abstraction."

Installation graphic for Unstuck in Time exhibition. Image courtesy of Te Tuhi and Sam Hartnett