Undefined by Design gallery show

Posted inPrint Design Articles
Thumbnail for Undefined by Design gallery show

Outside an unassuming, industrial-looking open door on a quiet residential street in the neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn, owner Lori Kirkbride perches outside in a lawn chair welcoming neighbors and gallery-goers into her small but beautifully lit gallery space called Lorimoto, run by herself and her husband Nao Matsumoto.


Inside, Brian LaRossa (a graphic designer by day at Scholastic) curated a select group of designers who embody the art-design hybrid practice model to contribute pieces to sell in a gallery context. The show, titled “Undefined By Design,” opened April 12th and closed May 18th. Please find the link to the entire catalog here.

Left: Number 7 Ebonized Aspen Panel by Elliott Earls and right: Look Twice, acrylic on window blinds by Juan Carlos Pagan

left: “Number 7 Ebonized Aspen Panel” by Elliott Earls and right: “Look Twice,” acrylic on window blinds by Juan Carlos Pagan

Ellen Lupton, who wrote the essay for the show, offered several metaphors and varying venn diagrams for the art and design relationship, comparing it to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich or ham and eggs or wine and beer. Invited designers included Keetra Dean Dixon, Elliott Earls, Juan Carlos Pagan, Paul Soulellis, Debbie Millman, Milton Glaser, and Mike Perry, among many others.

Kareem Collie on the left and Debbie Millman's Fare Thee Well Digital print on the right.

Kareem Collie on the left and Debbie Millman’s “Fare Thee Well” digital print on the right.

Here are a few questions I asked Brian about the show:What compelled you to choose this gallery, this location and this particular group of artists? What was the selection process like?

I showed with a gallery in Williamsburg Brooklyn for about five years until it closed in 2012. During the same period I was working as a designer at a publishing house and so frequently crossed the line between art and design. This led me to study the history of movements and individuals whose focus was/is multidisciplinary. The idea for the show was born out of the intersection of these experiences, which also led me to become aware of everyone whose work ended up being in the show. In 2013 Lori Kirkbride and Nao Matsumoto hired me to design a logo for their gallery and at the end of that process I pitched the show.

The prices of the works were fairly accessible. Were most of the designers used to assigning value to their art versus their design work?

I made a conscious effort to invite designers with exhibition histories who maintain studio practices. I was interested in the work of designers who appear to be engaging the conversation in contemporary art, as opposed to simply making personal work for themselves.

Lori holding up Paul Soulellis' chance-generated web to print publication.

Lori holding up Paul Soulellis’ chance-generated web-to-print publication.

What do you think the motivation is to work outside of a client context besides creative freedom?

In my experience professional designers come to the craft via a broad range of crooked paths. Personally, I did not study design in undergraduate or graduate school and consider myself to be self-taught. Working on art and design projects simultaneously is in the DNA of my approach to both. I can’t really separate one from the other—they feed each other.Ellen Lupton provided several metaphors in her essay for the show on the art and design relationship. Do you have your own?

I love the metaphors in Ellen’s essay—her writing style in general. It’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming heavy-handed when discussing the relationship between art and design. Her perspective is always tremendously insightful, refreshing, and playful—I doubt that I could produce a metaphor as strong … How about: Design is a hardbound copy of The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger; art is a hardbound copy of The Catcher in The Rye by Richard Prince.

I felt that there was more than simply trying to define this relationship as the main thrust of the show. Could you elaborate?

“Undefined” is the operative word in the show’s title. On its face the difference between art and design seems clear. One provides answers, the other provides questions, one serves a client, the other serves itself. But as with most things the closer you look the less definition you find. The intention of the show was to provide a space where these relationships could simply be pondered rather than to make a declarative statement about them.


Describe some words you were using when thinking about and assembling the show. Edition? Multiples? Value? Context?

“Culture” is really the lens through which I viewed the show. It’s the way the cultures of art and design differ that interests me most. To use the earlier example of Richard Prince’s The Catcher in The Rye, employing plagiarism as an avant-garde tactic is old-hat in the art world. But, if a designer employs plagiarism it is not perceived as avant-garde by the design community—even if that is the designer’s intent.

Keetra Dean Dixon's Away on cotton canvas fabric.

Keetra Dean Dixon’s “Away” on cotton canvas fabric.

Do you have any other curated shows in the works?

I’m in the very early stages of organizing a re-imagining of The Architect
ural League of New York’s 1969 group show, “Street Works IV,” where artists like Vito Acconci were asked to create performance works on the streets of New York City over the course of one month. The re-imagining would be called “[Net]works I” and would have similar parameters except that a networked component would also be required. Performance art that connects the “public” of the net and the “public” of the street. It likely wouldn’t come together until mid to late 2015. So far I have soft commitments from several artists and a gallery in Bushwick … it’s a start.

Thank you to Lorimoto and to Brian for being so welcoming and generous with their time.

Additional Resources:

  1. For more on the role of design in contemporary culture, check out Design Culture: An Anthology of Writing from the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design by Steven Heller. In this collection of 78 of the most significant and stimulating essays, interviews and symposia from a leading journal, you’ll get provocative views from individuals both within and outside the field.

  2. Intricate paper cut-outs have informed and shaped visual culture. The “Running with Scissors: Cut Paper in Contemporary Art and Design OnDemand Design Tutorial,” you’ll learn about the fascinating, multi-cultural history of cut-paper art; its place in the contemporary art and design scene; and why artists are choosing it to convey their ideas today.