Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Ollie an Art Museum

Notes on Trends in Contemporary Design

Yes, thank you, skateboarders.  You gave us snowboards (not my thing, really, but I love how they look, shredding Mountain High), you gave us more kinds of Vans than would fill, well, a van, and you gave us the magazines that gave us about one zillion typeface and layout options.

First, a screenshot from the Nevada Museum of Art's website.  Note about two thirds of the way over, middle right, the Art and Environment logo.  Ah yes, the inverted letters.  I love this --- kicky and fun, the kind of thing that reads well but lets us think about Australia and base jumping and zero gravity.  The inverted "A" becomes a toppled Eiffel Tower or narrow canyon spanned by a bridge.  It makes you pause, just a microsecond, and think about life differently.  It's like those world maps that put New Zealand and Australia on the top half of the globe.  Fun stuff!

As a design choice, to invert a letter or two nearly may be a trend.  Here is a postcard that came in the mail, talking about something called the "2012 Center Awards" in Santa Fe.  Note the "r" in "Center."

As I say, this is nearly a trend: once you start looking for it, you can find it in a variety of places.  Here is another screenshot, this time for the website for the "Impossible" project, a small start-up group trying to resuscitate Polaroid film.  (Polaroid itself is bankrupt, but a Dutch factory still makes small batches of film.  Alas, the cost is higher now, but it's great stuff.  See my sample shot, below.)  Here is a screenshot from their website: note the "spelling" of the main logo, top left.

Pretty soon I suppose even Microsoft Word will let one do this, right on the title page of a term paper.  Until then, in order to get effects like this one must use an Adobe product, "InDesign," via which most books and magazines now are laid out.  Bold, bright, and striking: we see the changes in design everywhere.  Here's a page from a current biology textbook, Life: The Science of Biology (9th edition), by Sadava, Hillis, Heller, and Berenbaum.  As a guess, I would say this was originally done in Adobe Illustrator, then laid out for printing in InDesign.  Welcome to design's brave new world.

As content, this no doubt is serious stuff, but for me, aesthetically, the image itself, well, it's just plain charming --- it reminds me of the display window of a boutique cupcake shop.  It's not just a textbook, it's a preview for the next Pixar movie.

The clarity of the best current designs, combined with their risk and spunk, makes me feel about twenty years younger.  How about this gal, below, all scorpion snack and lavender lip gloss?  (Note to self: make sure my lipstick always matches my bra straps.)  This is a lovely WOW moment.  Next pay day, I hope the publisher gives whoever art directed this shot a fifty buck bonus.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  With saturated printing and striking, white-background designs being so easy to achieve, the grunge side of the equation factors in too.  You will see faux Polaroids, harshly lit and off kilter, in loads of fashion magazines.  In my case, I like to use the black and white film for my Polaroid camera that is made by "Impossible" (see above), but I like to go for an even more dated look, trying in this case for a 19th century feel.  This is a recent shot of a sculpture in my backyard that my wife calls Hoodhenge.  Black border is the film holder; originally, Polaroids only came with white borders, but the Dutch folks at Impossible like to mix it up a bit.

Is this photograph high Art?  No, maybe not.  For me, I just like the shot as a way to explore tonal ranges.  With Polaroid you never know what will happen.  The tallest of these stones is just a touch past eight feet high; the best time to shoot them is during a snow storm, but since we have not had one of those this week, next best is to use the time machine option of wonky film stock.

Of course as fun as these art museum websites and alternative weeklies are, I am an advocate always of going to the source.  Not the movie Lion King, but the play Hamlet; not Clueless, but the Jane Austin original; not Trader Joe's, but beef tongue tacos right from the vendor on the streets of Guadalajara.  Following that spirit then, it's time for me to put away my issues of Art in America and Eye magazine, and go right to the headwaters of design.  What will be in my mailbox next week?  What can I expect to be the next new thing?  Let me turn the pages and find out . . . Thrasher magazine, here I come.

1 comment:

  1. I like how logically you did it and make it sound so effing effortless.The call of the road has not been compelling enough to whisk me away from my career (maybe cuz I’m not in the corporate world), but I’ll keep a mental note of this when the travel bug bites.