Today the exhibition 'The Way Beyond Art: Wide White Space' opens at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco (through February 5). The show, which investigates graphic design’s evolving relationship with the visual arts and the work of both artists and curators, was organized by the CCA’s undergraduate Graphic Design Program, the Graduate Program in Design, and Jon Sueda, a CCA graphic design professor and founder of the San Francisco design practice Stripe. Sueda took a break from installing the exhibition to answer a few questions about the show and its accompanying lecture series.
Tell me a bit about how this exhibition came to be... what inspired it, who's behind it?
Last year, the CCA Wattis Institute initiated the program 'The Way Beyond Art' to create exhibitions with non fine-art programs at the college. Last year, Industrial Design was featured, and fortunately this year the collaboration is with Graphic Design and Graduate Design. I teach in both of these programs at CCA. The subject of the exhibition is definitely informed by my relationship with the CCA, the Wattis Institute, as well as my own practice. As a graphic designer who works primarily with art institutions on exhibitions, I thought the Wattis was the perfect venue to investigate the connection between graphic design, exhibitions, curators, and artists.
In your own words, what's the exhibition about? What's the goal of the show?
The exhibition is meant to investigate graphic design’s evolving relationship with the practice of exhibition-making as it intersects with the visual arts and the work of both artists and curators. Historically, art institutions (galleries and museums) have been a very fertile arena for graphic designers to practice and do experimental work, whether via exhibition catalogs, exhibition design and signage, promotional materials, or interactive media. My goal is to highlight exceptional and innovative work being made in this largely unseen area and share it with the San Francisco design and art communities.
Any story behind the exhibition name?
The title 'Wide White Space' refers to the name of a radical art space in Antwerp, Belgium that, though it existed for only a decade, came to define contemporary art in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This exhibition likewise aims to investigate the possibilities for how empty space, whether the white cube or the blank page, can be transformed into something more complex.
How did you determine who to include in the exhibition? Does their work share any particular qualities?
First of all, the selection of work comes from the same domain: graphic design operating in an exhibition context. The show will focus on three areas in particular: graphic designers who create innovative identities for exhibiting institutions; work that is a result of unique collaborations with curators or artists; and graphic designers who launch their own exhibition-based initiatives. I wanted to bring together an international view of both contemporary and historical work to tell this story. The designers in the show were selected specifically because they consciously construct a narrative around their work, position themselves as authors of autonomous creative projects, and maintain a conceptually rigorous, research-based, historically fortified approach.
Can you please give some examples that illustrate the exhibition's range?
The range of the work is quite broad. You will see everything from documentation from the first major graphic design exhibition in the U.S., to concepts for portable exhibitions, to actual fragments from contemporary exhibitions where graphic designers have played a unique role.
Is there any single piece (or pieces) you're most excited about being in the show? Why?
I'm definitely excited to experience LUST's 'Poster Wall for the 21st Century,' which is a projected wall of posters that creates new iterations of itself every 5 minutes by scraping websites for the most current information. LUST has created a San Francisco version of the project that will draw from only SF-based content. I'm also looking forward to seeing Julia Born and Laurenz Brunner's installation of 'Title of the Show,' which explores a fascinating way of viewing graphic design in a gallery and publication context.
Why did you feel that now is a good moment to delve into this subject?
I feel like this is an area of graphic design practice that is often marginalized and not so visible, especially in the U.S. At the moment, it is a very rich collaborative area where graphic designers are really doing conceptually rigorous work that involves a trans-disciplinary approach and a level of autonomous production.
Tell me a bit about the accompanying conversation series—if someone could only attend one of the talks, which would you steer them to and why?
The conversation series, called 'Wider White Space,' is an adjunct program, featuring presentations by members of our amazing faculty here at CCA: Bob Aufuldish, Rachel Berger, Eric Heiman, Wendy Ju, MacFadden & Thorpe, Emily McVarish, Michael Vanderbyl, and Martin Venezky. Two designers will be pairing up on Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the two-week duration of the exhibition to basically build upon the context of the show itself. Each of these designers intersects the subject of the exhibition in different ways, so each evening will be focused on a specific area that stems from their interests. It’s difficult to only recommend one talk—I think they will all be great!
Additionally, one aspect of the Wider White Space program that isn’t so visible at the moment is the course that will follow the exhibition at CCA. Along with Jens Hoffmann and Claire Fitzsimmons (Director and Deputy Director of the Wattis, respectively), I will be teaching a course this semester that extends this exhibition throughout the spring. In the course, students will select one of the designers/design groups from the exhibition and create a series of smaller solo exhibitions that will be hosted on the CCA San Francisco Campus. I’m very excited about this as well!