Search for ‘Rob Giampietro’ (5 articles found)

Early paper maquettes used to explore elevation and shadow affordances in the Material Design system. From California: Designing Freedom, at the Design Museum, London through Oct 17.

A Design History of the Hugo Boss Prize

The Hugo Boss Prize: 2014(New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2014), front cover. Design: Gavillet & Rust

The Hugo Boss Prize—the Guggenheim’s biannual award for the whole of an artist’s career—has been one of a few major prizes of its kind (without restrictions on age or nationality) since its inception in 1996. An ambitious catalogue, developed collaboratively by curators, artists, and designers, has accompanied each Prize exhibition. Overseen by a rotating cast of eminent design firms that has included Karlssonwilker, Project Projects, and Sagmeister & Co. (now Sagmeister & Walsh), the catalogue has long been an important component of the Hugo Boss Prize project, and the Prize’s curators actively promote experimentation in its design.

For the Prize’s first two presentations, in 1996 and 1998, all of the shortlisted artists were included in exhibitions at the Guggenheim Soho. The catalogues for these shows, designed by Lisa Ballard, paired small, pastel-covered books set in spare, sans-serif type, with booklets of tear-away postcards. In 2000, the exhibition relocated to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, and the Prize exhibition took on a new form: rather than presenting the work of all the shortlisted artists, the museum gave the winning artist a solo show. At the same time, the catalogue was adapted to become an alternate means of showcasing all the artists on the Prize’s shortlist. Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim Foundation at the time, wrote in the preface to the 2000 catalogue: “This publication, designed as a magazine for mass distribution, functions as an ‘exhibition’ in print. Each artist was invited to create a six-page project that would communicate the concerns of his or her work in two dimensions.”

As designed by Paul Carlos (now the co-owner of multidisciplinary New York firm Pure + Applied), the 2000 catalogue’s new shape—an 11-by-13.5-inch softbound slab of semi-translucent and glossy paper—still stands out from the other compendiums that might be expected to neighbor it on a shelf. At the beginning of the catalogue, Carlos interleaved blue translucent overlays of the artists’ names with heavy stock on which key works are depicted. This introductory procession of images overlaid with names suggests both montage and roll call, like a sequence of title cards.

The catalogues have retained Carlos’s large-format scale ever since, but within those parameters subsequent designers have played with a seemingly limitless range of possible idioms. The books’ typographic style and tactile qualities have evoked a variety of printed materials, from architectural presentations to college-ruled notebooks. In 2002, Cornelia Blatter and Marcel Hermans of COMA, a design firm based out of New York and Amsterdam, divided the area of the page into a modular plot in which the standard format was interleaved with pages of a smaller dimension. These smaller pages, which bear examples of works accompanying prefatory essays, are set off against the full-bleed project pages, thus according different dimensions to the projects’ documentation and to the space of the individual “exhibitions.”

For the cover of the 2004 edition, New York-based Stefan Sagmeister rationalized his own idiosyncratic handwriting into a pattern of circles laser-cut to reveal a reflective backing page. That year’s winner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, also riffed on reflectivity. In one work, he presented a miniature version of the classic modern open-plan interior, but replaced opaque surfaces with reflective ones—a modification, he said, that more correctly achieved a “multifaceted image of reality.” Filling this otherwise chilly, rational space with DJ performances and children’s readings, Tiravanija fostered a sense of inclusiveness between audience, artist, and institution. The first leaf of Sagmeister’s catalogue—the design of which was otherwise relatively direct and functionalist, “a formal problem,” as he describes it—perhaps carries a similar sense of inviting the reader physically inside. Sagmeister describes the structure in the terms of architecture: “This publication represents a number of stacked white boxes. We designed the outside signage as well as some guiding signs . . . [The artists] designed the exhibits.”

In the 2008 edition, New York firm Helicopter’s dividing sections incorporated background imagery taken from subsequent spreads, recalling both COMA’s modularity and Sagmeister’s partial transparency, though the 2008 book’s pages are resolutely opaque. Over the subsequent years, the sense in which the two-dimensional exhibition space was allied with the shape of the catalogue became a framework in which graphic designers sought to articulate the boundaries of each artist’s project. The 2010 catalogue, designed by Project Projects, took the form of a ring-bound portfolio, in which each artist’s section could achieve a kind of autonomy. Project Projects’ Rob Giampietro explains, “With the artists sharing the same ‘space,’ we approached the catalogue in such a way that you can start the book from every section.” Opened to one of the usually interior dividing pages—printed on the same card stock as the cover—the binding allows the sections to reposition themselves within the space of the book. As Giampetro notes, “Each artist can have, in a sense, his or her own self-contained catalogue. None of them are first or last, the book can start at any point.”

The 2012 catalogue, created by London-based designer Sara De Bondt, both continued this approach and subtly diverged from it: the tape-bound book nestles inside a slipcover, and each artist’s section is grouped in a translucent vellum overleaf, subtly staging it as a separate presentation. The white-on-white cover suggests gallery walls, within which each “exhibition” is introduced by a full-bleed photograph of the artist’s studio space. (In keeping with the expanded view of each aspect of the publication, these “studio spaces,” too, range from Rashid Johnson’s orderly warehouse to a detail of Danh Vo’s bathroom tile.) The spatial allusion roots the portfolios in the context of a specific place. As a contextual hint, De Bondt set the text in Cheltenham, the headline typeface used by the New York Times. In the preface, Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, wrote that this detail gave the text “an uncanny familiarity while subtly emphasizing [its] role in recording a noteworthy moment in the evolution of contemporary art.”

If the designers who have worked on the Hugo Boss Prize catalogues have often demonstrated a shared interest in issues of structure and presentation, their approaches have varied widely. Giampietro described Project Projects’ process as conceptual, seeking to evoke multiple impressions that might not be reconcilable. “The way we saw it, the catalogue is an exhibition space, but also a magazine. It’s a prize, and a book, and a prize as a book.” Current events also informed the 2010 design’s split personality. “This was after the recession, so we were thinking of how it could be high/low. There’s already the idea of the prize as a trophy, but we also wanted it to look like a paperback you buy at the airport: names on the cover as large as possible, with sculptural embossing in this curvy typeface. There’s always some kind of conceptual operation at work. Ours was to make it of its time. Not of the future, or of the past, but of that ‘now.’”

Jan Wilker, of New York firm Karlssonwilker, who worked on the 2006 volume, characterizes his approach as anti-conceptual: not based on abstract ideas but driven entirely by graphic impact. “Like any German, at first I was drawn to the conceptual formula: research, ideation, verification, execution. But this project was proof to us that a concept-driven approach is not the only way of dealing with the project. There is another way, which is quite the opposite, where there is no concept; where we are just looking for form, shape, color. Like the job itself is in a parallel world. To take that step was ecstatic.”

Wilker notes that the firm presented two diametrically opposite proposals to the Guggenheim. The firm made the “archetypical designer’s catalogue”: rigorous, conceptually sound, and perhaps a little flat. The other version was based on a cover with an interlocking system of black lines, in which artists’ names, also in black, are overlaid with flocking. This furry appliqué is almost invisible at distance, but upon closer inspection it gives the cover, like the Méret Oppenheim teacup, a rude immediacy. “The conceptual [approach] was what a designer would do in a T.V. series about designers,” explains Wilker. “Not bad, but not really furthering any cause. . . . With the other, we said: ‘With this, there is no concept. This just is. But it’s something emotional and strange. It’s not slick.’ And they went for it.”

Both Wilker and Giampietro view their respective catalogues as favorite projects. “For designers, it’s a great commission. It’s very legible from year to year how the designer chose to intervene,” Giampietro said. “The catalogue becomes a discussion of the design’s response to art as well as the formal problems posed by the commission, year after year.” Indeed, it is the intention of the Prize’s curators that the book’s design should catalyze this kind of inventiveness and dialogue. “The process of inviting a designer to undertake the project is a very considered one, which applies the same criteria of innovation and influence that we use in selecting the shortlist itself,” notes Katherine Brinson, Associate Curator, who is co-organizing this year’s iteration of the award with Assistant Curator Susan Thompson. “We like to think that the Prize catalogues provide as much of a platform for avant-garde graphic design as they do for the work of the nominated artists.”

For the 2014 catalogue, Gillles Gavillet of Swiss firm Gavillet & Rust saw the publications’ dual nature—both permanent and inscribed with the signature of a specific time—as an opportunity to create “a fluid viewing experience.” In his design, a minimalist type programmatically snakes around the page, tying together visual elements while leading the eye from one corner to another. Gavillet characterizes the typesetting as “a thread between the different parts. It uses and deploys codes from different typographic worlds, from de-structured chapter openers to more architectural and contrasted essay pages.”

Gavillet emphasizes that the “reduced typographic vocabulary” unifies and draws together the sections of the catalogue. The typeface, François Rappo’s Optimo Plain, has an apparent simplicity, but, as Gavillet explains, “The way it’s drawn is very optical and graphic. It makes it possible for one letter or word to structure and define a page.” The divisions between sections are signaled by colored ribbons, which only become visible when book is opened. A black leather cover evokes the 19th-century luxury of Moroccan leather bindings, but is delicately fused like a soft cover, giving it a “haptic dimension that reflects its hybrid status.”

The 2014 catalogue, like each of the ones that preceded it, encodes its own particular moment in the intersection of visual, verbal, and material characteristics. As a uniquely collaborative performance in which the roles of artists, curators and designers intersect and combine, the Hugo Boss Prize catalogues look not so much like a series of exhibition catalogues, or even compilations of “exhibitions in two dimensions,” but appear as fully autonomous objects. Each one traces the unique gravitational forces—in art, in writing, in design—of its particular world.

On the 'Now in Production' catalog

Andrew Blauvelt, Ellen Lupton, Graphic Design: Now In Production, Walker Art Center, 2011. 240 pages, USD $26

The most prevalent species of exhibition catalogue plays a primarily documentary role. Whether in the form of a large-format doorstop or a wiggly pamphlet, it is born with the mission of recording an otherwise transient exhibition, embodying in print the curator’s intentions, the works displayed, the significant dates, the donors. Lined up in libraries, they serve as the fossil record of living events. The more advanced descendent will sport an essay or several that attempt to augment the significance of the physical exhibition with wider-scope contextualization, to add to the amassed body of work a moment of self-awareness.

The Graphic Design: Now In Production catalogue, if it is of the same species as other catalogues at all, is a most highly evolved one. Compiled by curators Andrew Blauvelt and Ellen Lupton, it’s at turns loose and comprehensive, informal and serious. Essays are interleaved with works they reference, works they don’t reference but are relevant, and works that may not be directly relevant to the essay but are probably relevant to the other works. Though largely drawn from those exhibited at the Walker Art Center and the Cooper Hewitt over the last year, they are arranged with a fluency that seems completely unimpeded by the curatorial conceits of the physical show. The book, more than merely documenting the exhibition it’s associated with, stands on its own, as its book-form recapitulation.

Blauvelt and Lupton write in the introduction that their organizational strategy is inspired by Stewart Brand’s The Last Whole Earth Catalog (which they gloss as “the classic hippie guide to off-the-grid survival”), with images of various sizes staggered across the page and lengthy captions floating alongside. Blauvelt, in the colophon, recalls that this strategy was first employed in the promotions of the first Walker Art Center painting collection in 2009, based on founder T.B. Walker’s salon-style hangings in his nineteenth-century mansion. He calls it a “premodern” approach, but hints that it is also simultaneously the opposite of that (the thought occurred to me as I was reminded of the design of newer Tumblr blogs, that organize themselves dynamically into grids with the latest script libraries).

By reproducing important essays that first appeared in other sources, the Graphic Design catalogue amazingly — and perhaps a little disconcertingly — addresses most of the principal formal problems graphic design critics have grappled with in the last ten years. The first seven or eight deal more or less directly with a basic question about what constitutes the designer’s role, orbiting Rick Poynor’s and Michael Rock’s “Designer As Author” conversation, which appeared in Eye magazine in the 1990s. Though neither of the original essays appear, presumably because they fall outside the present historical scope, Michael Rock’s swaggering revision, “Fuck Content,” and Ellen Lupton’s “Designer as Producer” summarize them sufficiently. (“Designer As Producer,” actually, strikes me as a term perhaps preferable to Steven Heller’s “entrepreneur,” or, at least, if taken in the Studio System sense, capable of neatly coupling “entrepreneur” and “author.”)

If it’s distracting that such a large body of text is given over to wondering what the activity of its subject even is, it’s at least a proportion that seems to me representative of the most visible writing about graphic design in the last decade or two. And there’s a larger hand-wringing that has encompassed not only aesthetic and political categories of graphic production but also — as Blauvelt observes — the existential ones that it faced down in the wake of dreaded “desktop publishing.” Reading this opening sequence of essays straight through, it’s easy to get a little exasperated at a kind of anxiety that might even border on mawkishness; after all, is this really a question of the designer’s role? Or is it a question of what role the designer is best compared to? “Author,” “researcher,” “producer,” “critic,” “entrepreneur,” etc. Michael Rock — even as he bemoans this tendency — compares the practice to that of a film director; or rather, not any film director, but Alfred Hitchcock. “What makes a Hitchcock film a Hitchcock film is not the story but a consistency of style… His great genius is that he is able to mould the form into his style… The meaning of his work is not in the story but in the storytelling.” That’s pretty good, especially if you’re talking about the work of Michael Rock.

James Goggin’s contribution, “Practice from Everyday Life,” by contrast, swings in the extreme opposite direction: proposing an “expanded field” for graphic design, throwing a lasso around all these imagined frontiers — entrepreneurship, conceptual (art) work, writing. In so doing, Goggin gets precariously close to making the term uselessly vague, so broad so as to lose any specific meaning whatever. (He also quotes Stuart Bailey, always wonderfully gnomic, who sidesteps all this: graphic design is “a ghost: both a grey area and a meeting point.”)

If this ontological angst seems claustrophobic, the end of the catalogue departs from these fine grades of self-distinction into utterly new directions. Peter Hall’s measured essay on data visualization spreads out a great deal of scholarship on mathematics, information graphics and networks and cognition and despite that description it’s utterly readable and because of (or despite) that, should be syllabus catnip.

Rob Giampietro’s “School Days” compares the increasing importance of MFA programs in creative writing with the parallel graduate studies in graphic design. Drawing on Mark McGurl’s “The Program Era,” he finds that practice not only informs education, but education also informs practice, or perhaps, not so much informs as gives form. And the reflection or reification between work and school, and vice versa is not easily bound by their institutional categories. Giampietro puts it, “just as there are types of aesthetics that are not called art or are coming to be known as art, so too are there types of pedagogy that are not called school or are coming to be known as school.”

The typographic "modern"

Specimens for the typeface Univers, by Adrian Frutiger (1956).

Vestiges of Swiss Typography linger in the air at Yale; meanwhile, a sort of neo-Swiss style is back, particularly in techno music and electronica or on MTV, where young designers see it as “retro chic,” being relatively unaware of its history within the greater history of modern graphic design. This is, I think, because the Swiss Typographic movement has not been properly historicized. But it is also due to the fact that the era of modern typography ended with less of a bang than a whimper. The Swiss method was too extreme, too totalizing, for an American audience, and, soon after its export to the states, the needs of an ever-hungry graphic audience were ultimately satiated by the postmodernists at Cranbook, Michigan, or by the playful parodies of Swiss forms by Wolfgang Weingart. A new humanism was coming to graphic design, ready to replace the icy impersonality of late Modernity with a vulnerability and sincerity unseen since the demise of the Arts-and-Crafts movement at the start of the modern typographic era.

This turn was anticipated as early as 1949, when Gyoergy Kepes, a Hungarian emigre teaching at MIT, delivered an address at Harvard about the role of Functionalism (similar to Structuralism) in “Modern Design.” Kepes writes,

We tend to mistake the slogan for truth, the formula for the living form, the repetition of habit for cultural continuity. Inertia leads us to carry this dead body of lifeless thoughts around with us… Vigilance is needed [to combat] the intentional misuse of words and ideas.

He goes on to remind designers that

[D]esign is not for design’s sake…, design is for man. Man was at the root of [the ancients’] thought, and human function gave direction and measure to whatever they were doing… [Now], we’d rather see what we are looking for… We are passive men, lazy men, armchair onlookers… We must find those feelings in which and through which man’s bonds to nature and to other men can again be experienced… [In doing so], we can bring back the truest meaning of tradition, which is to realize in terms of today a living continuity with the genuine values of the past.

Kepes’ words anticipate the condemnation of Helvetica over 25 years later, when, around the same time, architect Robert Venturi offered this statement to an audience of fellow architects in Berlin during a talk called “Functionalism, Yes, But,”

Functionalist architecture was more symbolic than functional. It was symbolically functional. It represented function more than resulted from function… But the symbolism of functionalist architecture was unadmitted. It was a symbolism of no symbolism… Aesthetic qualities, if ever mentioned, were said to derive from the easy resolution of the never contradictory functional requirements of a program.

The First / Last Newspaper - Dexter Sinister

Dexter Sinister

Publishing imprint Dexter Sinister will transform BLANK SL8 (pronounced “Blank Slate”)—a “pop-up” hosting space facing the New York Times building and adjacent to the Port Authority terminal—into a fully-functioning press office, writing, editing, designing, and distributing a broadsheet newspaper across the city. During the three weeks of the biennial, Dexter Sinister will invite writers, artists, and designers including Steve Rushton, Jan Verwoert, Rob Giampietro, Dan Fox, Walead Beshty, Jason Fulford, Sarah Gephart, Tamara Shopsin, Mariana Castillo Deball, and others to collaborate with The First/Last Newspaper, reflecting on the unstable condition of contemporary news and related medias …

November 3 – November 22 2009
Opening Reception Tuesday, November 3 from 6-9 PM
Port Authority at BLANK SL8, New York