Written by Lana Lopesi
Graphic Matters is a monthly column on issues and ideas related to New Zealand Design Culture
Curated by Wendy Kaplan and direct from Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California Design, 1930–1965 Living in a Modern Way at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in 2013 was an exhibition which absolutely delighted New Zealand art audiences when it arrived. The first major exhibition focused on modern California design included over 250 items.
What the success of California Design highlighted was local audiences’ interest in design exhibitions. Unfortunately for those audiences there aren’t very many opportunities to see exhibition designs here in Aotearoa, except of course for Objectspace which has always been the rare exception to the rule with a dedication to craft, design and — now with the revamped exhibition space that has been extended to include — architecture. The refurbished gallery which has just recently been announced as a ‘Gallery of the Year’ finalist in the international Architizer awards, has not let us down with the design exhibitions thus far. With the most recent exhibition to open being There is no such thing as a New Zealand typeface by Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Foundry.
The exhibition focuses on typeface designer Kris Sowersby’s investigation of a what a typeface from New Zealand could be. Sowersby was “motivated to create a typeface that local designers could use to communicate with rather than reaching for foreign ones”, and the result of this was National a now commonly recognised typeface first released in 2007. As the exhibition text reads,
“National is everywhere, especially here at home. It’s on the front cover of the Anthology of New Zealand Literature and in the New Zealand Fashion Design encyclopaedia. It’s there every time you pass a Z petrol station or a Westpac billboard. It’s at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Christchurch Art Gallery, and throughout the branding of Victoria University. It’s on everything at Xero. It’s the face of newzealand.com for New Zealand Tourism. It’s even been pulled into politics by the Green and Labour parties. When we want to say “New Zealand”, we seem to reach for National.”
The exhibition seeks to investigate how typefaces can become meaningful to people and places through daily encounters and their references to place. As well as displaying Sowersby’s typeface in the space, there is also a series of images made in collaboration with photographer Alistair Guthrie of place signs using Sowesby’s typeface which as the gallery writes “asks questions about the relationship between typography and place, text and landscape, and ultimately identity”.
The exhibition asks a question of itself, is there a relationship between a typeface and place and more specifically what is a New Zealand typeface. However, it also poses a wider overarching question of what does it mean to bring design into an exhibition space? A question which I look forward to considering as more exhibitions focus on design.
29 June – 4 August 2018