The last two major exhibitions of graphic design, Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History (1989) and Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture (1996), where held at the Walker Art Center and Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum respectively. Although the former was met with a fair amount of criticism for leaving out some notables, both were seminal exhibits. Each set the standard in chronicling the principle work and designers of the periods addressed. The annual swirl of institutional and editorial competitions often shoot old and young guns to temporary prominence, but it is the job of these museum shows to do the historical heavy-lifting.
The first Walker show (which traveled to other cities and landed at the IBM Gallery in New York) was organized by the Walker’s Mildred Friedman. The Cooper show was the work of curator Ellen Lupton. It is perhaps fitting that the current Walker show, Graphic Design: Now In Production (October 22, 2011 – January 22, 2012, and will also be on view later this year at the Cooper Hewitt) is co-curated by Andrew Blauvelt and Ellen Lupton along with Ian Albinson, Jeremy Leslie, Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio. An editorially and pictorially packed catalog is available.
This is indeed the ur-exhibit of the 2000s. It delves deeply into design since the computer, especially “design authorship.” My own essay contribution is on design entrepreneurship. The overarching theme is design in flux from service to content-production, thanks in part to the computer enabling designers to be “producers.”
Now in Production asserts that graphic design is here to stay, but the means and outcomes are certainly different – if not more independent – than the corporate domination of the first Walker show and the burgeoning expressive movement of the Cooper show. It is well worth a trip to Minneapolis or wait for it to come to New York Summer 2012, when it is a little warmer.