From the number of house plants to the amount of music played and what type, the new exhibition “Image of the Studio: A Portrait of New York City Graphic Design” showcases a fastidious breakdown of the environments in which 75 of the Big Apple’s graphic design shops operate. But the survey digs deeper than the intriguing cultural inclinations—although there is plenty of that to chew on—and delves more seriously into how the city’s specific urban landscape shapes the community’s visual output.
The project’s exhibition and online extension share every last detail of how New York City, one of the world’s vantage points for graphic design, connects all styles of studio practice within a comprehensive, ubiquitous urban fabric. “Image of the Studio” distills these ethnological nuances into a collection of visually expressive data derived from in-depth questionnaires. This curious approach—a graphic design journey in its own right—aims to highlight the value of the city’s graphic design evolution anchored by a harmonious environment. It turns out that listening to NPR in the morning, taking a midday cheese break and enjoying a requisite glass of whiskey at your desk come five o’clock aren’t so uncommon. While they aren’t necessarily exclusive products of life in design, they represent a shared playing ground for the visually inclined minds of NYC. And they make for a riveting display of personal data.
The fascinating show of happily mundane information is accompanied by original works from each graphic design studio. Out of the agglomeration of thumbnail surfaces, perhaps the most appealing moment of the project is a series of conversational videos that ask the studios not only about their creative process, but ultimately, “Why New York?” It’s impossibly compelling how shops as different as the global empire Pentagram and the two-man typeface team ETC can work in such steadfast, like-minded fashions.
While the website will continue to evolve with new and interesting visual data and videos, the exhibition marks graphic design at this moment in time and will remain more of a time capsule. “Image of the Studio,” curated by creative studio Athletics and Alexander Tochilovsky of Cooper Union, opened 1 October 2013 at the Cooper Gallery and will run through 26 October.
Additional reporting by Lauren Espeseth; photos by Karen Day