It’s always refreshing when museums focus exhibitions on design—just ask the Met about “Savage Beauty” and what that did for their membership enrollment. I love fine art as much as the next cultured, egotistical sophisticate, but the interactivity and utilitarian relatability of design consign it another dimension of experience. My historical perspective might be limited, but I have noticed a burgeoning presence of design exhibitions in museums across the country—recently “Avant Garde” at the Art Institute of Chicago, “European Design of the 1980s” at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the aforementioned “Savage Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and everything at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt. Despite this assortment, I have never encountered anything that specifically focuses on typography. Having a background in graphic design, it was a pleasantly jarring surprise to discover the new acquisition in the design galleries at MoMA that feature a collection of typefaces. They are those most related to the Digital Age, such as OCR-A, Oakland, Garamond, and the all too recognizable “Error 404 Page not found” (darn wireless is out again).
I had a typography professor who encouraged us to study letterforms in as large a size as we possibly could, because only then do you disassociate it with the letter it represents and instead view it as a designed shape. To some extent this is being demonstrated in the display of the typefaces in the gallery. They are freed from the glowing rectangular confines known as computer screens and released from the sometimes-oppressive company of graphics and color and being permitted to model their curves. Presented in such a way, it’s a new perspective with which to examine something you think you know so well. I’m sure people would find confusion in encountering fonts in a design gallery, but really typography is the corner stone of graphic design. However, if Comic Sans or Curlz MT were to enter the building, security would need to be called.
Not to evoke revolutionary or bourgeois rhetoric (as I avoid Wall Street like the plague), but in many ways design is the art of the people. Not everyone (in fact, essentially no one) can afford to adorn the walls of their abode with a Rembrandt, a Picasso, or a Pollock, but as operative creatures we surround ourselves with objects every day, all of which have been designed. Whether it is an Ikea table, an iPod Touch, or a pocket umbrella from WalMart that broke the first time it rained, they have all been conceived and designed to achieve some aesthetic and functional goal. In light of this brief discussion, it seems apropos to reference the People’s Design Award, as orchestrated by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in celebration of National Design Week. PDA accepts nominations from anyone and everyone (go for it!) and is open for voting until October 17th. Here is your opportunity to help define taste and aesthetics…or at the very least show other design enthusiasts what you think is cool.
Suggested wine pairing: Since design is so diverse, I think selecting one wine for it would be too limiting. Therefore, you can decide for yourself. However, I might recommend the following wine rack, evocative of MoMA’s design collection: Wine Rack.