West of Modernism
LACMA, Los Angeles
– 21 April 2019
Graphic design between resignation and innovation – the exhibition “West of Modernism: California Graphic Design, 1975–1995” at the LACMA pays tribute to this transformative period in the late 20th century, marked by designers’ striving for autonomy and technical innovations. The unique position of Los Angeles as a haven for the US avant-garde of graphic design was crucial here.
During these years, designers in California were persistently trying to distance themselves from the rigid rules of Modernism that was particularly prevalent in New York. In addition, technical innovations shook the graphic arts scene: one need only think of the introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, but instead of getting overly excited, graphic artists used these years to emancipate themselves from current design practice and to turn instead to individual interpretations of creative will. Colloquial elements found their way into the graphics as well as experiments with three-dimensionality. Not infrequently, these efforts at empowerment went far beyond intentional imperfection – and were almost illegible. Some representatives even made visible the instability of word meanings and the complexity of actual communication. A significant legacy was their introduction of controversy to design. In times when design is sometimes used to challenge the use of clean lines, this has proven to be a true source of inspiration.
The exhibition is part of the Graphic Design Initiative, led by the two departments of Decorative Arts and Design and Prints and Drawings. Since 2014, they have been systematically building up a graphic design collection, accompanied by ambitious exhibitions and events. The goal is nothing less than to embed graphic design into larger narratives of international art and design history. Given that works by influential designers such as Emigre Inc., Ed Fella, April Greiman, Rebeca Méndez, Deborah Sussman and Lorraine Wild are included, they are sure to succeed.