A Narrow Divide
30th April, 2009 by Brita Frost
Galleries that show design generally don’t get such a great wrap. Taking design out of its commercial context can have disastrous results (mediocre design printed and stretched onto canvas comes to mind). And yet since opening in 2006, The Narrows has successfully shown the work of an impressive range of international designers and typographers including Experimental Jetset, Ed Fella and John Melin alongside a varied, cutting-edge arts program.
This kind of programming raises interesting questions about design and the visual arts, and the juncture between the two. I would argue that the relationship between art and design has generally been understood as ambivalent, and that any exchange between the two is often characterised as a kind of pilfering. Nevertheless, the parallels and successful cross-overs are numerous extending from the Surrealists to the Bauhaus to contemporary artists and designers too numerous to mention.
above image John Melin at The Narrows
The Narrows allows for art and design to be exhibited alongside one another without the over-blown explanations. Director Warren Taylor has a personal interest in typography and printed material and this is something that has “permeated through the rest of the program as artists begin to investigate other outlets for their practice.” At The Narrows, designers such as John Melin, Tobias Frere-Jones and Experimental Jetset are positioned within a particular cultural context allowing for investigations beyond traditional understandings of what graphic design is and can be. And by doing this the commercial arts are accorded a specific kind of cultural value of and beyond what it is that designers produce for commercial purposes. These are issues pertinent to many of the artists and designers who have shown at The Narrows. As Greg Fullerton writes about German artist Dieter Roth ‘The irony is he was extremely prolific during his career but considered his own work as contributing to the shit heap.’ Something close to the heart of many contemporary designers.
The kind of graphic work that Warren chooses to show, the way that the work is exhibited and the beautiful printed posters produced alongside each exhibition, positions design not as art’s lesser cousin but as an invaluable and considered part of our visual culture.
On Monday, man-of-the-moment Tobias Frere-Jones will open his exhibition at The Narrows. Sure to be a great show, if you’re in Melbourne in the coming weeks drop in and have a look.
MAY 4 – JUNE 6 2009
141 Flinders Lane
+ 61 03 9654 1534
open Wed to Fri 12 – 6 pm, Sat 12 – 5
all images courtesy The Narrows.
by Brita Frost
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