As an art form, graphic design really hasn’t gotten its due, Doug McCombs says.
McCombs, a curator at the Albany Institute of History and Art, isn’t the only one who thinks so. He recently read a story about how the Museum of Modern Art in New York City accepted 23 digital fonts into its collection. Curator Paola Antonelli said the acquisition was important because there was a gap in the museum’s holdings when it came to graphic design.
In the case of the Albany Institute, it had plenty of examples of graphic design, but there had never been a display or exhibit dedicated to it.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, the institute will open a new exhibition entitled Graphic Design — Get the Message. It will focus on four themes: typography and early printing; commerce and graphic design; political and social messages; and the creative process.
Graphic design, McCombs says, is everywhere. He points to people’s morning cups of coffee emblazoned with the Starbucks logo and the flags atop the newspapers they read. In fact, graphic design is so prevalent, McCombs thinks, that people rarely stop and contemplate it.
`It’s something we take for granted,` he said.
Staff at the institute started thinking about putting together an exhibit on graphic design when it received two collections that were heavy on the medium. The first centered on Hajo Christoph, an immigrant from Berlin who worked at the Fort Orange Paper Co. in Castleton. Considered something of a graphic design pioneer, Christoph created `just very eye-catching` products for the company and other manufacturers, McCombs said.
The second collection was 80 games and toys in their original boxes from the Albany-based Embossing Co., which was founded in 1870. The company’s trademark products were checkers, alphabet blocks and dominoes, McCombs said.
`They never really changed their product, but they changed the package design to entice new generations,` McCombs said.
That speaks to the underlying message of the graphic design exhibit.
`It’s not just a pretty display,` McCombs said, noting that graphic design has been used for everything from selling products to touting political views to promoting social issues. The display will include posters, broadsides, package designs, paintings, decorative arts and historical photographs.
Although some things in the exhibit are national in scope ` for instance, there are more than 800 World War I posters collected by Cuyler Reynolds, the institute’s curator at the time ` most have deep Capital District roots. And McComb pointed out that while the exhibit stretches back some 400 years, it also has a heavy modern influence.
Vicarious Visions, a local video game manufacturer, and Spiral Design Studios in Cohoes both contributed to the exhibit and will host a free presentation on graphic design in March. The two companies underscore the fact that graphic design is no longer limited to print.
`It’s animated and it’s interactive,` McCombs said.
Students and faculty at The College of Saint Rose, which boasts one of the nation’s highest rated graphic design programs, also had a hand in the display, which was exciting for both sides.
`They never get a chance to see real examples of graphic design,` McCombs said. `Everything is in textbooks or slide shows. To see how things are printed and designed just doesn’t happen.`
Or, at least it didn’t. The institute show will run through June 5 and will regularly feature speakers, workshops and presentations. A complementary exhibition, `Hajo: An Artist’s Journey,` opens on Saturday, March 5.
In each case, beyond the messages are exhibits that McCombs could only describe as `beautiful.`
`It’s just a treat for the eyes,` he said.“
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