Art & Development

Good news for art lovers

I had a revelatory experience looking at squiggles on a wall today.

For the first time, I gained a deep appreciation for Sol Lewitt‘s work. Though I’ve seen a few of his works in person and many in reproduction, the innovation, technique and phenomenological experience did not become reified to me until my visit to Dia:Beacon today.

There are eight rooms dedicated to Lewitt’s early wallworks at the Dia:Beacon in upstate New York. While all the works followed instructions, and often consisted of no more than pencil line on white walls, they resulted in myriad visual experiences. They were immense, immaculately executed, and beautifully situated in one of the best buildings for viewing art that I’ve seen in the US.

The drawings brought to mind ideas about order, grid, variation, geometry, the human hand and authorship. I thought about the attention to detail that the executors brought to their tasks, the roots of our associations between abstractions and whimsy or gravitas, the simplicity of the materials, and the ingeniousness of Lewitt’s efficacy.

The works grounded me at Dia:Beacon. I was flooded with gratitude. I felt lucky to be able to see the works in person in such a lovely setting. I was also grateful to the Dia Foundation for allowing so much space to individual artists. I never saw anything like this in California. This dedication was complimented with a commitment to direct, uninterrupted viewing experiences. Didactic texts were minimal; perfect, indirect sunlight filtered in from the building’s northern windows; guards were sparse, demure, and inconspicuous; and there was plenty of space and peace.

It might seem strange to admit, but standing in a room with only pencil lines and squiggles on a grid, a dopey smile spread across my face. This the quality and scale of the viewing experience and the stellar collection re-energized my excitement about being in New York. At the risk of hyperbole, Dia:Beacon elevated my expectations of what is possible in art.

Also on view are breathtaking “negative sculptures” by Michael Heizer, and many fine examples of Fred Sandback’s yarn installations and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs. I also loved the cool basement full of uningratiating works by Bruce Nauman (including his recent studio-mouse-surveillance videos, complete with shop stools), Louise Lawler’s humorous bird calls-based outdoor sound piece, and a room full of On Kawara’s date paintings. Robert Irwin’s landscape design formed a soothing contemporary art idyll. I didn’t want to leave.

Photographs were not allowed, and in any case, my snaps would not do any justice to Lewitt or Dia. You’ll just have to see it with your own eyes.

Dia:Beacon
Beacon, NY

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Art & Development

Two Brothers named Design and Art

To be considered a “serious” artist, there’s pressure to downplay one’s non-art practices — even visual ones like graphic design. Art professionals need to distinguish between dabblers and lifers, but that shouldn’t be hard. It’s perplexing that this dissociation persists.

Consider art since 1960, and the typographic sensitivity of many Conceptualists.

on kawara, lawrence weiner, yoko ono, barbara kruger

So you think you are a typophile? Faces named below.

Consider how aspiring artists and designers learn. My early creative interests were unbounded — drawing horses and floorplans as a kid, making zine collages as a teenager, studying printmaking (AKA graphic arts) in college.

Further, my making skills — whether tinkering, bookmaking, or print and web design — enhance my art capacity, especially now that I’m making text-based installations and producing multiples. It seems obvious that design is a useful skill set for artists; fellow artists and art institutions need graphic design, too.

Good design conveys risk-taking and visual sophistication. For example, Stripe‘s print and signage design for the Wattis and Cinthia Wen’s/Design at Noon’s identity design for YBCA* are innovative, flat-out gorgeous assets.

So I’m excited to have the chance to bring my design skills to a contemporary art context. After a terrific experience creating new work for Southern Exposure‘s Bellwether exhibition, I was invited to design the poster for SoEx’s next show. The alternative arts organization has a history of working with award-winning designers like McFadden & Thorpe and Post Tool, so I earnestly accepted. The poster will be arriving in mailboxes and shop windows in the coming weeks. You can’t miss it.

In the meantime, worlds (art and killer typography) collide: Emigré is having a show at Gallery 16.

EMIGRE at Gallery 16
December 18 – January 29, 2010
Opening reception on Friday December 18 from 6 – 9pm

Emigre, Inc. is a digital type foundry in Berkeley, whose magazines were an inspiration since year zero B.M. (Before Macintosh). You can bet that there will be gorgeous posters, publications and, quite possibly, some hand-thrown pots. Because designers can be artists too.

An outro in the rock ballad of this blog post:

I’m not so idealistic as to pretend that there aren’t differences between being a graphic designer and being an artist. Last week when M, a workaholic early-bird designer, started staying up late to obsessively photograph his design portfolio, I told him that he’s becoming an artist. His response:

“Noooooooooooooooooo!”


(*Disclosure: Occasionally I work at the Wattis and YBCA doing design/vinyl/preparator work.)

Avant Garde Medium, DIN Cond Bold, American Typewriter, Futura Bold Oblique

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