Artists Who Are Using the Vocabulary of Design

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LISBON — The first biannual contemporary art festival held here in Lisbon, entitled Portugal Arte 10, is a monthlong exhibition that doubles as a major push into cultural tourism. To kick things off, the festival organizers focused on site-specific public installations to highlight the city’s topography and architecture: artists like Olaf Breuning, Martha Friedman, Jim Drain, and Nathan Mabry have works placed along streets and sidewalks and picturesque city plazas around the country.

In addition, Lauri Firstenberg and Cesar Garcia, of LA><Art, have expanded on their Los Angeles-based Billboard Project and installed works on the road between Vila Real de Santo António and Grandola, in the Portuguese countryside. And Brooklyn collective Faile has created a full-scale temple in the square near the center of Lisbon in the shadow of the Eden Teatro, an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1931 by Cassiano Branco and Carlo Florencio Dias. [More about both of these projects in subsequent articles.]

The man who pointed out the specifics of the Eden theater and its importance to the city was Miguel Arruda, a Portuguese architect whose public art project is also being shown as part of the festival. And as he talked about the thought process behind his installation, he described the difference between sculpture and architecture. The general public, he said, understands sculpture better than it understands architecture, yet it reacts more emotionally to architecture than sculpture, both good and bad. He wanted to present the work as sculpture as a way to help the public understand architecture better.

I wondered if a similar case could be made with graphic design and museum art. And rather than engage the old question of design vs. art, I noted a few works and artists being shown here at Portugal Arte 10 for whom design, and graphic design in particular, play a crucial role in their practice.

Jim Shaw

Detail of True False Mirror, 1987 features the CBS logo from William Golden. This still from a different section of the video relates to the more recent “Eyes” video by ex-graphic designer Koichiro Tsujiwaka, which was commissioned by Getty Images.

Mark Flood

Mark Flood’s Michael and E.T.

Mark Flood’s Michael and E.T. is part of a series that reworks the poster and prefigures the Photoshopped digital manipulation that’s become so common these days. He has had solo shows called “Temple Signage” and “Billboard Alterations,” displaying an interest in how images are communicated to mass audiences.

Cory Arcangel

Cory Arcangel work

Speaking of Photoshop, Cory Arcangel gives his paintings titles that, in essence, describe how to recreate the work using the designer’s favorite program. The painting above is very similar to a series of three paintings here in Lisbon. The title: Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Russell’s Rainbow,” transparency off, mousedown y=0 x=450, mouse up y=25100 x=17550.


Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach’s work

Tauba Auerbach’s work has long played on lettering, textures, and shapes. [She even designed original work in the 2007 Regional Design Annual for Print as well as a commissioned illustration for William Safire’s “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine.] In the past year, she has exhibited here in Lisbon and also in the Whitney Biennial and PS1’s Greater New York show.

Takeshi Murata

Pink dot

Untitled (Pink Dot) transforms footage from Rambo: First Blood into an overwhelming pile of pixels and data. Trained as an animator, Murata was an originator of datamoshing, which has been integrated into the mainstream via Kanye West’s music video for “Welcome to Heartbreak.” Watch his video “Monster Movie” here.

Marco Branbilla

Lastly, Marco Branbilla’s work Civilization collects hundreds of sampled images from films to create a video mural. Commissioned for The Standard Hotel in New York as a sort of video interior design for the elevators, Branbilla succeeded in two critical categories: getting the correct compositing with the production studio Crush and staying within the limits of fair use to avoid lawsuits.

Surely there are other fine artists who are working within the design vocabulary … these are just a few being exhibited in Lisbon through the next month. If you know of others, send them along to info at printmag dot com and we’ll keep adding to the list