January 16, 2008
by Canadian Architect
Graphic Thought Facility: Resourceful Design is the first exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago to be devoted solely to the work of a single design firm. The exhibitioncurated by Zo Ryan, the museum’s Neville Bryan Curator of Designshowcases the work of the eponymous London-based graphic design studio, Graphic Thought Facility (GTF). With an installation commissioned by the Art Institute from GTF, this is the firm’s first solo museum exhibition, on view March 27 to August 17, 2008 in Gallery 24.
“I am thrilled to be presenting the work of GTF as the first exhibition at the museum devoted solely to contemporary design,” said Ryan. “This exhibition is evidence of the commitment the Art Institute is making to the field of design, a commitment that will become even more apparent as the Department of Architecture and Design moves into new quarters in the Modern Wing in 2009. GTF’s innovative approach and broad range of projects put them at the leading edge of the fieldthe shape of which we’ll be marking in exhibitions through the coming years.” Established in 1990 by Paul Neale, Andy Stevens, and Nigel Robinson, GTF is emerging as one of the most progressive and creative design firms working in both two and three dimensions. The firm is well known in Britain for creating the brand identities of some of the bastions of British design, including Habitat, a furnishings and interior design retailer launched in 1964 by Terence Conran; the Design Museum in London; and Frieze, London’s major annual contemporary art fair. Active also in book design, GTF designed monographs on the work of Tord Boonjte and Ron Arad as well as the exhibition catalogue for the 54th Carnegie International in 2003, all of which are presented in the exhibition. Projects for the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Science Museumincluding exhibition and installation graphicsand products for the Tate Britain and Tate Modern retail stores are evidence of the firm’s versatility in bringing their practice from page to space.
Both comprehensive and innovative, GTF’s design work cuts across commercial and cultural practices as well as high-tech and low-tech modes of production. Committed to the expressive power of images and typography, GTF is known for pushing the boundaries of materials and methods. Rejecting the slickly-styled graphics that characterized much of British design in the 1990s, GTF instead favors a “do-it-yourself” aesthetic. This handmade feel is evident in Stealing Beauty, a catalogue for the Institute of Contemporary Art in London that consists of a humble binder compilation of original materials such as postcards, labels, and handwritten questionnaires by designers in the exhibition, and in the materials for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which stress not the personality of the actors but the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatre itself.
Graphic Thought Facility: Resourceful Design also builds on the views expressed in the Art Institute’s current architecture and design exhibition, Figuration in Contemporary Design , in featuring the role of ornamentation and decoration in today’s practice. Together, the two exhibitions make a compelling case for the diversion from sleek and industrial minimalist design elements to a more organic and subjective aesthetic.
Accompanying the exhibition is the first fully illustrated publication to explore the work of Graphic Thought Facility. Part of the Architecture and Design Series published by the Art Institute and Yale University Press, the catalogue will be available in the Museum Shop.