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Re: Museum Typography

I've noticed with interest the labels used by the Archive Grafik gallery here
in Kansas City. The gallery shares its space with a letterpress studio (Hammer
Press....no relationship to the presses of Carolyn & Victor) where the labels
are hand set and printed. The typography is conservative, clean, & tasteful
but they use whatever stock they have on hand. December's show--a Hungarian
dissident poster artist--was printed on quadrille paper(blue-line graph paper,
4 lines/inch.....this was more like 5/inch) and laminated to mount-board. This
worked well because the labels tied in with the artist's work without
distracting my focus from the art......

The labels @ the Science and Industry Museum(is that the correct name?), in
Chicago, i remember as working well.....though they've probably been replaced;
that was years ago. They were set in Eusibius roman, a Ludlow font designed by
Bob Middleton in the 20's....It seemed to work because it was consistent with
the building's Classic architechure and tended to receed into the background
so that it didn't compete for my attention.

I like the way some museums paint or silkscreen, directly on the wall,
passages of text that annotate the subject of the show (if i seem to be
getting off subject try to think of these as wall books). I think the Nelson-
Atkins here in KC does a particularly good job of it. About ten years ago they
did a show of late 17th century Italian paintings. The museum's exhibit
designer wanted each bit of wall text to be headlined with the artist's name
in the script fashion of that time and place. Even though I was glad to have
the opportunity to do those headlines, i haven't been asked to do it again and
i suspect the designer(who did a first rate job BTW) was unaware of how
expensive it is to letter 9 long Italian names and the exhibit title so that
these can be silkscreen printed at 4'to 6' x 1' on a wall.


In a message dated 2/6/99 7:37:55 AM Central Standard Time, ptw1@is6.nyu.edu

<< Interesting. I don't "do" museum typography, but I've worked long enough
 in museums to have noticed a few things.

 I)Style-wise, there are two approaches:

 a) The old-fashioned "let's type it up on the IBM selectric" approach, in
 which the curator oversees the project to the end (I've seen white-haired
 fuddies actually wander through exhibitions at the opening, assistant in
 tow, dictating rewrites).

 b) The new-fangled "show-biz" approach, in which the exhibition design is
 handed over to a professional designer or architect. In such a case the
 labels are written up and provided by the curators well ahead of time, and
 then the designer gets "creative" in terms of style, placement and so

 Content-wise, there has been an enormous amount of thought and
 discussion about the labels - everything from Tom Wolfe's witchy "The
 written word" to Susan Vogel's amazing tour-de-force, an exhibition of
 African Art which was really about how art is labeled.

 Most of these discussions come from art historians interested in the
 history and politics of museums: who is the art trying to reach? what is
 being withheld? how is the viewer manipulated through the placement of the
 art and its description?

 In closing, an anecdote. I once met a museum curator who had just finished
 putting up a show. It turned out she had hired a calligrapher to write the
 wall labels. The calligrapher, in turn, decided that the calligraphy WAS
 the artwork, and wanted equal billing...The curator, as you can imagine,
 was rather miffed.

  On Tue, 2 Feb 1999, The Holves wrote:

 > I am currently Co-Editor of "Alphabet", the journal for the Friends of
 > Calligraphy in San Francisco. I am searching for a writer, article, person
 > who is knowledgeable about typography used in museum displays - especially
 > on the wall. Is there  a typeface that has been specifically designed to be
 > read on the wall? If so, which one(S). If not, which typefaces are most
 > often used in museum displays?  I'm almost always struck when visiting many
 > museums how much lettering is there to be read and wonder if much thought
 > has been given to the amount of reading the museum is suggesting the viewer
 > to do.  I personally think that there is too much, for we (I) know that
 > it's much easier to sit down and read from a well designed book. Any
 > thoughts, articles, knowledgeable people about this topic?....Let me know.
 > Thanks. Brooke Holve

 Paul Werner, New York City

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