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An Art For Design

NEW YORK, NY -- It is no secret that the art world is constantly on the lookout for the next big thing. But artists aren’t the only ones making a name in galleries and museums these days: graphic design has become a new way for art institutions to distinguish themselves. A group of saavy designers are taking note. 

When Rachel Uffner Gallery opened four years ago in New York’s Lower East Side, it had a modest storefront: a small gallery for public exhibitions and an even smaller private office for storing work. The gallery’s physical space had neither the glamour or expanse of older, and more monied Chelsea institutions, but its impressive lineup of emerging artists showed promise. How could it get collectors to take notice? Like many young upstarts, the gallery chose to forgo pricey real estate but to invest some money in a strong graphic identity. Knowing that its collectors were spread around the globe -- many “visiting” the gallery soley through its website -- having a strong presence in print and on the web was crucial to its success (as seen in photos 1 - 2).

The gallery eventually hired Project Projects, a design firm whose clients include the Whitney Museum of American Art (as seen in photo 3), the Rhode Island School of Design, and Museo Tamayo, Mexico City. Founded in 2004 by Prenn Krishnamarthy and Adam Michaels, Project Projects has made its mark by partnering with small and large arts organizations to design exhibition catalogs (as seen in photo 4) and graphic identities, even managing significant rebranding campaigns. Like many young firms, it has recognized the benefits of taking on arts organizations: clients with keen design sensibilities who are eager to receive boundary-pushing solutions for their projects. This, coupled with the free word-of-mouth advertising synonymous with business in the art world -- curators and gallerists constantly updating one another on what’s new -- has made early partnerships with arts organization a smart move.

If you aren’t ready to start your own firm yet, but are hoping to get some experience with art clients, where to turn? A few other designers stand out for their long-standing relationships with museums and galleries.

Kloepfer-Ramsey - This design-duo has experience working with art world heavy weights Artforum, PS1/MoMA, and the Walker Arts Center. They recently designed Maurizio Cattelan’s book All for the Guggenheim, which riffs on the format of an old encyclopedia.

James Langdon - Langdon first trained as an artist, but now his graphic design is much sought-after by art book publishers. He has produced catalogs for artists including Matias Faldbakken and Steven Shearer, and his impressive work as a curator of graphic design can be enjoyed at Eastside Projects in London.

Purtill Family Business - Conny Purtill has become a favorite of curators looking for innovative exhibition catalog design. His books for Charlene von Heyl’s exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the Whitney Biennial 2006 are both stand-outs for how they fold out -- creating catalogs that can also be pulled apart for poster-sized versions of artworks.

Dexter Sinister - Artist’s Space in New York recently turned over its galleries to the duo Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey), who have produced numerous publications and design collaborations with artists, including the cult-worthy journal Dot Dot Dot. Their work, which spans typography, writing, curating, teaching, and even art making, is representative of the increasingly hybrid nature of working in the design field today.

Snagging an internship or a first job with these design gurus will give you an edge when preparing to get your own creative clients. Check out their portfolios for some art-worthy inspiration.

Photo credits:

Photo 1: Rachel Uffner press materials, Project Projects. Photo by Project Projects

Photo 2: Rachel Uffner Identity, Project Projects. Photo by Project Projects.

Photo 3: Kloepfer-Ramsey designed Artforum and Joseph Logan designed Whitney Biennial 2012 catalog. Photo by Cameron Douglas

Photo 4: Joseph Logan designed exhibition pamphlet. Photo by Cameron Douglas