Monday, 22 August 2016

Bright Designs for MAP’s Latin American Exhibition in London

By Caitlin Dover, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

As the curators prepared to bring the Guggenheim UBS MAP exhibition Under theSame Sun: Art from Latin America Today to the South London Gallery, they considered how the powerfully eclectic exhibition, presented in its third venue, might best be framed for a new audience. Enter designers Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath of London-based studio OK-RM, who worked with the MAP team and the South London Gallery to devise an identity system that would convey the ideas and aesthetics of Under the Same Sun within and beyond the gallery.

As MAP curator Pablo León de la Barra notes, “Part of what is exciting about the UBS MAP initiative is that we have been able to connect with local talent in the places where the exhibition has toured: for Under the Same Sun’s presentation in Mexico, we worked with Maricris Herrera, who did the graphic design, and Frida Escobedo, who created the interior architecture; in London, we collaborated with OK-RM.

Their approach took into account the history of concrete poetry and geometric abstraction in Latin America, which has deep resonances with the artists in the exhibition. The urban presence of their graphic identity (on the hoarding outside the new South London Gallery space, and on billboards and bus ads) contributed to extending the energy of the show into the fabric of the city, and ultimately brought some sun to London!”

We spoke with Knight and Dewi Pinatih (OK-RM’s project manager) about how they developed the concept for this unusual project.

What were some of your first impressions of Under the Same Sun when you received the brief to create an identity for the exhibition? What about it informed your work from the start? 
We were interested in the Latin American focus of the exhibition having worked closely on previous occasions with several of the featured artists, and as we became more familiar with the curatorial selection we were impressed by the diversity of works [on view]. Rather than taking cues from any specific works, we responded to what we understood to be the spirit of the collection of works and Latin American culture on a broader level.

Spread from gallery guide to the exhibition. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

Can you tell us about some of the specific inspirations for your concept? 
A key aspect of the visual identity is a typographic articulation of the title within the lineage of concrete poetry, a postwar artistic movement with roots in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. As well as [incorporating] this direct link to Latin American art and poetry, this approach was inspired by the visual nature of the title itself. This typographic treatment is flanked by a vibrant color palette of geometric blocks and shapes, which at once references the language of national flags and also the colorful street culture present throughout Latin American cities. The result is not so direct as to evoke a clear association with nationality, but more of an abstract reflection of Latin America’s unique relationship to the modernist canon.

Printed materials for Under the Same Sun. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

What were the primary challenges you faced in this project? 
One of the biggest challenges was working on the identity for an exhibition that was in its third iteration, having already been installed and communicated on two separate occasions in New York and Mexico City. We felt it was appropriate to create an identity which would add a fresh perspective in the new London context and also offer an opportunity for collaboration between us, curator Pablo León de la Barra, and the teams at the Guggenheim and the South London Gallery.

Can you talk a bit more about the collaboration with León de la Barra? How did your conversations with him shape the identity you created? 
Pablo was very supportive throughout and encouraged us to challenge the way that the design had been approached in the previous iterations of the exhibition. Having lived and worked in London, he had strong opinions about what he thought would and wouldn’t work in the London context, whilst also helping us to navigate any potential South American clichés.

What has been the response to the new identity?
The response has been good. It’s been circulated a lot on social networks, which is usually a good sign that people are reacting and connecting to it positively. Color and geometry as abstract entities have a universal appeal . . . People tend to react well to the things that they understand. It of course also helps that the content is excellent and that the exhibition it is being hosted by two very popular art institutions.

Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today is on view at the South London Gallery until 11 September.

An ad for Under the Same Sun in the London Underground. Photo: Courtesy OK-RM

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