Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

After Hours…, a designers’ personal projects exhibition

June 13, 2013, 2:00 AM

As a designer, you’re constantly looking around, searching, questioning, measuring, discovering. It’s not something you can actually turn off – and even if you could, you probably wouldn’t. It might be tiresome sometimes, but the joys far outweigh the tolls. This restlessness leads many designers to make work without a client, brief or fee. Some are collectors, some photographers, film makers, painters, sculptors, illustrators, musicians etc – the list is incredibly diverse. As are the reasons. Some do it for their own pleasure, some for educational purposes (personal improvement or teaching), others for promotional reasons or just because nobody else has done it before in a particular way.

The exhibition takes place at the Jerwood Space, a very nice spacious gallery close to Tate Modern

‘After Hours…’ is an exhibition that explores designers’ personal projects, curated by Nick Eagleton (in his ‘after hours’, obviously) of The Partners and hosted by the JVA at Jerwood Space. It’s a wonderful mix of curiosities: prints, sculptures, clocks, chess boards, films, flags, 3D-printed objects, badges and remote control drawing machines. While some can be easily called ‘art’, others are the result of typical design approaches: solving a problem or communicating an idea to an audience. Either way, their authors share the same drive, to make their own work. Names range from very well-known, like Anthony Burrill, Alan Kitching, Michael Johnson (johnsonbanks), Phil Carter (Carter Wong) to a selection of young designers in which I was very lucky to be included.

A large Anthony Burrill wall-painted piece is the first thing visitors see and sets a good mindset for the rest of the exhibition. There’s also a reading table in the middle, with books and booklets from several participants, either personal projects on their own, or accompanying some of the pieces in the exhibition (click on images for larger size, or open them in new tabs for full size).

Anthony Burrill’s piece sets a good mindset for the exhibition

Below, on the reading table, Craig Oldham’s beautiful book ‘The Handwritten Letter Project‘, the exhibition’s leaflet (scribbled by a visitor) and my ‘Picturing Thoughts‘ booklet, showing twenty posters from the growing collection.

My Picturing Thoughts booklet (right) on the show’s reading table

Two more Burrill posters, the ‘Work Hard & Be Nice to People” one being a long-time favourite with designers all over.

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Among my favourites, six wonderful letterpress typographic maps of London by the master Alan Kitching, based on his experiences throughout the city.

Alan Kitching’s superb letterpress typographic maps of London

One can get lost in Mr Kitching’s details, but such a beautiful experience

‘Antigraffiti’, by Steven Royle of The Chase, is an interesting ‘anti-typeface’ made up of the shapes a paint roller leaves after covering up various wall messages.

Covering up graffiti becomes a language in itself

More projects in the second room, including Joe Phillips’s ‘Remote Drawing’ which proved to be very popular during the show’s launch event, and Craig Oldham‘s ‘The Flag Bearers’, a self-initiated project asking questions about self-initiated projects.

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Hat-trick’s Jim Sutherland is probably the most prolific, showing just a few of his many projects: ‘Garage’, a book plus posters about creatures and typefaces ‘found’ in his dad’s garage, ‘Type(chess)set’, a typographic chess set, a typographic deck of cards, a witty pencils set and various re-arrangements of chess boards, shown both as objects and booklets (you can get most of them from the Hat-trick website).

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The most prolific in the exhibition, Hat-trick’s Jim Sutherland

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The lovely ‘Garage’ booklets remind me of my grandpa’s tool shack. The spread bottom-right shows ‘Zorro and his collection of moustaches’.

Don’t miss Zorro and his moustaches

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Michael Johnson’s ‘Arkitypo‘ project is also based on typography, originating from johnson banks’s relationship with the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. The initial brief was to do something more interesting with 3D printers. They came up with stories for each of the 26 letters in the alphabet, 3D-illustrating them.

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For example, Bodoni was initially based on Baskerville, so the twisting shape starts with one and ends with the other. Nearby, a Fraktur ‘F’ morphs into Germany’s map, as the typeface was at some point banned for being ‘too German’.

Twisting from Bodoni to Baskerville, and from Fraktur to Germany

An eclectic mix of projects by younger designers take up the opposite wall (open the image in a new tab to view it in full size).

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Below, eight of my Picturing Thoughts posters, followed by guyandherbert‘s ‘Youth and Immortality’ and Myounghee Jo‘s ‘Trace the Memory’ shadows project.

Eight of my Picturing Thoughts posters

Still in the same room, two projects from Magpie Studio founders: Ben Christie’s lovely ‘For a Rainy Day’ coin box …

Ben Christie’s saving money for rainy days in a charming way

… and David Azurdia’s ‘ABC rule’, combining millimetres with markings for standard paper sizes.

A designer’s rule, with paper sizes markings, by David Azurdia

The third room holds one of the exhibition’s highlights and a personal favourite, Phil Carter’s (of Carter Wong) ‘Found Folk’ – wooden characters mostly made up of driftwood found along rivers or beaches. Some are as they came, some are painted while others are burnt for a more unified look. All fascinating.

Phil Carter’s charming ‘Found Folk’

My favourites, the thin fellow made of woodblock punctuation marks and the Brancusi-reminding one on his right :

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Next to them, two other interesting pieces …

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… Jamie Ellul’s (the third founder of Magpie Studio and now founder of Supple Studio) fine-looking ‘Time Is Money’ clock …

‘Time is Money’, as Jamie Ellul proves

… and Jack Renwick‘s (former Creative Director at The Partners) charming solution to moth holes: moth badges that cover the damage.

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Nick Asbury‘s ‘Pentone’ is another highlight, being ‘an artificial system for dividing language into different tones of voice’.

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Like many of Nick’s projects, it’s a beautiful combination of wit, humour and well-crafted writing.

Get it while it’s hot! — sorry, couldn’t help it

Next are Alex Swatridge’s (designer at Hat-trick) food-themed screenprints and the comic-book illustrations of Robert Ball (also of The Partners).

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Worth a good look too are the show’s details panels, bearing Nick Asbury’s rhyming ‘description’ for the show (he says it’s not a poem) and each contributor’s photo and bio, some almost as interesting as the exhibits themselves (open the image in a new tab for full size).

A fascinating collection of portraits and bios (open in new tab for full size)

Here are some photos from the show’s opening (May 25). It went really well, many showing up in spite of the rain. Nick Eagleton talked about how the show came to be and the challenges behind it.

Nick Eagleton during the exhibition’s launch

Below, Craig Oldham and Michael Johnson ‘endorsing’ my Picturing Thoughts posters :)

TWO TALKS

Two other events have accompanied the exhibition, the first one (June 3) being Adrian Shaughnessy‘s talk titled ‘Autonomous practice in graphic design: good or bad?’. Pros and cons were debated, the conclusion being that it’s good, and ‘definitions are meaningless’, so we shouldn’t worry too much about whether it’s art, design or whatever, doing it is what’s important.

The second talk, titled ‘After Five Minutes…’ (June 10) was in Pecha Kucha format (each speaker gets five minutes only). Six of the ‘After Hours…’ participants talked about their personal projects. Phil Carter was first, sharing the process behind his ‘Found Folk’ project and other related pieces. I was especially impressed by his practice of picking up sticks, writing on them and then throwing them back in the water for somebody else to find and enjoy. Such a selfless, giving-back act, something that designers, artists (and people in general) should think about – and do – more often. The others were interesting as well, you can read a good review of the talk on the johnson banks blog, from where I’ve borrowed these two images below with Mr Carter’s sticks.

Phil Carter’s writings on sticks found in the water …

… which he throws back for somebody else to discover and enjoy

[later update] You can view the whole talk on Jerwood’s Vimeo:

BOOK

A small book showing all the work from the exhibition was launched at the Pecha Kucha event (you can still get one if you visit, details below).

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My Picturing Thoughts posters in the exhibition’s book

CONCLUSION

Nick Eagleton summed it up very well by saying that there’re two kinds of people: wishers and doers – many have said to him that they wish they’d done this or that, referring to various pieces from the show, while those involved in it have just done it. So it’s all about which kind you want to be, a wisher or a doer?

Wisher or doer – which type are you?

THANKS & VISITING DETAILS

Many thanks to Nick Eagleton and Jerwood Visual Artists for making this happen, and a hat tip to all the people involved, it’s been such a pleasure. Also thanks to all that have visited and spread the word. The exhibition is still on till June 23, so if you happen to be in London, don’t miss it (visiting details here).

LINKS

— The show’s details on the Jerwood Visual Arts page, in case you missed it above;
— Review of the show on the johnson banks Thought for the Week blog;
— Review of the ‘After Five Minutes…’ talk on Thought for the Week;
— Review of the show on Creative Review blog by Nick Asbury;
— Review of the launch on Design Week;
— Review of the show on This is Tomorrow art magazine;
— Details about the show and ‘Pentone‘ on Nick Asbury’s website.

You can find out more about the participants and their websites on the black board with the bios, just open the image in full size.

On a similar subject, look up the ‘No Brief: Graphic Designers’ Personal Projects‘ book.

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‘On finding design work in a new country’

September 1, 2012, 9:32 AM

I’ve written a guest-post for David Airey’s excellent blog, entitled ‘On finding design work in a new country‘. As you might guess, it explains my approach to finding work as a designer in London, after leaving Bucharest in September 2010. You can read it below in full.

The good, the bad

Moving from one country to another isn’t easy, unless you’ve just won the lottery. The good news is graphic design has become an almost universally spoken language all over the globe. It’s almost impossible to tell the nationality of a designer just by looking at his or her work, unless it’s expressed deliberately. This means that, in theory, you could do just as well in New York, London, San Francisco, or Sydney. The bad news? It’s hard to get your foot in the door as people are still reluctant to trust foreigners, even when your work is good enough.

The approach

When I decided to move from Bucharest to London, I knew I was taking on the world’s best. There are around 46,000 designers in London, so competition is fierce. My first task was to research the “enemy.” A year before moving, I subscribed to Design Week and began to read the Creative Review blog on a daily basis. I was familiar with superstar agencies of Pentagram and Wolff Olins calibre, but I would’ve been naïve to think I could get a job at such companies so soon.

Knowing who’s who, even at lower levels, was a must. The Design Week’s top 100 provided a good start, and relentless reading of other articles and blogs helped me build a list of companies I thought I’d enjoy working with. I wrote emails to more than 200 of them, regardless of whether they had openings or not, each time trying to find who the creative director was and writing a little about their company so the email wouldn’t look like a mass-sent one. The strategy was to ask for an interview, not a job, and as most designers are helpful people, that was harder to refuse. This approach would get me far more than a chance for a job: I’d be meeting the right people, learning about their companies, getting good advice, sometimes even some freelance work.

“Creatives in general tend to move around in rather small, everyone-knows-everyone types of communities. Make friends with a few and you’ll soon know most of the others. And most importantly, you’ll be among the first to hear about new opportunities.”

Creatives in general tend to move around in rather small, everyone-knows-everyone types of communities. Make friends with a few and you’ll soon know most of the others. And most importantly, you’ll be among the first to hear about new opportunities. Blogging helped me a bit, but Twitter was by far the most useful tool, as people on Twitter don’t mind if you reply to them out of the blue. If you’re interesting enough, they might reply back — soon, you might just have a new Twitter-friend. It might seem like a long shot, but trust me, it works. For example, Mr Spiekermann was kind enough to say he likes my website.

I’ve also applied to more than 300 jobs posted on boards such as Design Week’s, but almost all of these are placed by recruitment agencies who very rarely consider someone with less than six months of UK experience. They also tend to focus more on people with known studio experience in their CV. Only a few recruitment agencies would recommend you solely based on the strength of your portfolio. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — you might just get lucky.

A nice photo of me that illustrates David’s article, taken by the talented Noctvrna.com.

The results

I got my first UK freelance project after a month. It was small, but I was working with one of the well-known UK designers, who was also very kind to introduce me to a few other established designers. Before moving, I had emailed him, asking if he could find the time for tea and advice. He was very busy then, so, instead, he asked me if I could help him on a small identity project. Of course I agreed. I’ve learned this way that it’s all about finding the courage to ask. Or, as Jay-Z says, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.”

The second UK project came after two months, another collaboration with a creative director (meanwhile I was busy with a new client from back home and also helping my former employer — it always helps to leave on good terms). He got one of the emails I’d sent to many London design companies. As he was setting up his own business at the time, he needed help on a pretty big project. We met for a chat and he was very glad to find out that we had a similar, rational design approach. I worked with him over the next six months, learning a lot on a very interesting project, designing the identity of a publisher and its four different newspaper supplements. So four months after moving, I got a three-month contract and another freelance project. Six months after moving, I got a full-time job with Appetite, a top 100 agency based in West London. Two years later (after moving), I’ve quit my job and gone freelance again, this time working on one of the biggest rebranding projects I’ve ever been involved in, all thanks to another creative director I met because of my initial emails.

“Luck plays an important role as well, but just as inspiration has to find you working, luck has to find you looking.”

What I’ve learned

It’s all about patience, perseverance, and the courage to ask. Luck plays an important role as well, but just as inspiration has to find you working, luck has to find you looking. You still need a good portfolio, of course, but that’s just the starting requisite, as London’s full of good designers. Write and talk to as many people as possible, be helpful and nice and people will remember or even recommend you. And it’s always a pleasure to hear from a person you’ve just met that they heard good things about you from someone else.

You might also be interested in my thoughts on moving, written back in 2010. Hope you’ll find my experience of some use, and, if you’re about to do something similar, best of luck!

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Graffiti is dead, long live graffiti

March 28, 2011, 4:50 PM

Street art, graffiti in particular, is more or less an ephemeral form of art, threatened all the time by weather, unhappy landlords, neighbourhood-cleaning raids or, most of the time, other street artists in search of a space to express themselves. There may still be around graffitis from the ancient times, but few are so lucky.

Shoreditch is by definition the cool centre of London, the place to be if you’re involved in any creative business. Almost every street has its own ‘work of art’, if not more. My favourite was this one, a rather unusual, monochromatic graffiti, as it was more a painting than a “wall sketch” (click for the full-size version):

The first time I saw it, I thought the wall was just dirty, as I could only see a small part from the right-hand side. The guys standing with their backs at the road seemed so natural, waiting for something, maybe just killing time. And of course, the smartest touch, the bike tied to the street light added even more depth to the confusion (each time I walked past the wall, at least one bike would be there, almost part of the painting). Details were beautiful, each character having quite a lot of stuff going on, plus there were one or two small bits to discover, like the plane right under the windows, usually hidden by the tree. And last but not least, the background was beautiful as well, an abstract, random-stripes-nonsense at first sight, an interesting city sky-line on closer inspection.

Here’s a closer-taken photo of the left side, taken last fall — the others are taken later on, during the winter (click for the full-size version):

Sadly, or naturally, as all things have an end sooner or later, the painting was replaced a few weeks ago by this less unconventional graffiti (click for the full-size version):

It’s most likely a continuation of the work on the other side of the building, on Curtain Road (which also went through its share of changes):

Unfortunately, I don’t know the [nick]names of any of the creators, so if you know something, drop me a line and I’ll happily add the credits. My favourite wall painting might not be there anymore, but if you’re walking on Great Eastern Road towards Old Street, make a left on Curtain Road to see what’s on.

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Reverting to Type — A Treat from the New North Press

January 17, 2011, 6:05 PM

Held at the Standpoint Gallery, “Reverting to Type” explores the modern execution of letterpress. Curated by Graham Bignell of New North Press and graphic designer Richard Ardagh, the exhibition showcases the work of twenty contemporary letterpress practitioners from around the world, contributions from three leading art colleges and the first eight in an ongoing series of prints with especially invited collaborators.

The show opened on 10th Dec 2010 and it’s still on till 22nd Jan 2011 (this Saturday), so if you’re in London and you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favour and go see it — open daily from 10 to 6.

The beautiful poster and invitation for the exhibition.

Here’s a close-up teaser (more images after the jump):

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Harry Pearce, “The Schizophrenic Road” — a lecture on keeping your soul alive

December 5, 2010, 8:41 PM

Even if it took place a little over a week ago, Pentagram-partner Harry Pearce‘s lecture titled “The Schizophrenic Road — Part 2: A design journey from a road in west London to a tree in Zanzibar” still echoes in my head, pushing me to launch some of my personal projects that I keep postponing constantly. But about that later.

Held at the Institute of Education’s Logan Hall (filled up to the last row) and hosted by Harry’s friend and D&AD president, Sanky, the lecture was divided in five parts:

  1. Look Both Ways
  2. Free the Word
  3. Little Sister
  4. Night Vision
  5. Street Alchemy

Sanky was first on stage, introducing his friend and telling a short story on how they met, waiting for an airplane to India, sharing their thoughts. The story was continued by Harry, saying how the sudden friendship between “two designers on free-fall” began in the airport’s waiting lounge and how he found enlightenment in India, while his partner, Paula Scher, only “got shit”, as she would later tell him.

Harry’s design journey started with a 440,000 year-old piece of stone, found on the bottom of the sea in one of his holidays. Thinking at first that it’s just an interesting-looking stone, he later realised, as the stone fit perfectly in hand, that it was actually an ancient tool, one of the early manifestations of design — and what an efficient design!

A 440,000 year-old axe.

1. LOOK BOTH WAYS

I bet that few were those in the hall that didn’t envy Harry for his friendship with Alan Fletcher. To have such a great mind as a mentor and close friend, what a blessing. Alan Fletcher was the one that encouraged Harry to keep collecting the occasional photos he took of signs all over the place. Starting from a road in West London to a tree in Zanzibar (hence lecture’s title — the sign on the tree said “Heaven Café & Restaurant”, pointing the direction, but as one nail was lost, the sign now humorously pointed towards the sky — too bad I didn’t take a picture of that), these signs later led to the creation of Harry’s “Conundrums” project and book (a long and intricate story for that as well). Funny thing here is that even though Alan advised Harry to keep taking the photos, he didn’t — he started only after Alan asked for the photos to put them in the “The Art of Looking Sideways” book. When Harry told him he didn’t have anymore, Alan replied that he had 3 weeks to get a double page spreads worth (story told in another presentation).

Road signs

"...looking at the world in a slightly off way."

The important thing to remember is that Alan Fletcher said this was Harry’s “looking at the world in a slightly off way”, something we all should try to achieve if we want to keep our creative spirit alive.

2. FREE THE WORD

The second part was about some of Harry’s projects, all of them based on typography as the chosen medium. The first ones were PEN International’s beautiful identity and “26 Exchanges“, both about “language bringing cultures together”, the last one presented during the Design Festival in 2009 (Sanky also being part of it). The main idea was to get 26 western writers together with 26 foreign ones and have them talk to each other, expressing their art emotionally rather than through translations.

Next were 52 Cards, typographic posters for Macbeth, Doll’s House, Modern British Sculpture, Roy Harper, Lippa Pearce (Harry and Domenic Lippa’s studio before they joined Pentagram — Domenic was in the audience as well). Another interesting project was the Dana Centre visual identity, where “typography [ended up] growing with the building”. All the projects proved once more how good typography can create powerful images. Few would forget the Macbeth poster, with it’s large title written in blood (you can view some of the other works at the end of the article).

3. LITTLE SISTER

The Haiti visual, yet another of Harry's striking works.

The big surprise of the evening was Harry inviting Peter Gabriel on stage. For almost twenty years, they have both been involved in humanitarian projects, namely Witness, the organisation that uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations, co-founded by Peter Gabriel. He talked about the organization’s goals, achievements, almost bringing the audience to tears (and Harry as well) through his moving, real-life stories. His modest, simple and direct way of speaking was admirable.

Peter Gabriel on stage.

Some of Harry’s most powerful works have been done for humanitarian purposes, like the Burma or Infantry posters (more than enough proof that design can help change the world):

The Burma poster was actually carried on the streets by the Burmese people during their protests.

Another project presented was The Hub, also part of Witness, the place to upload any videos showing human rights violations. Harry talked about how technology’s rapid development has helped people, being so easy these days to share videos with the help of a simple mobile phone. This part ended in a moment of silence, held in the memory of Natalya Estemirova, a Russian human rights activist and reporter shot and killed in 2009 because of her constant effort in telling the world of the atrocities happening in Chechnya. I guess the part’s title was also an homage to her, as initially this would’ve been called “Little Brother” (“Little brother turning the camera on Big Brother”, as Harry explains).

4. NIGHT VISION

The fourth part was about dreams, Harry mentioning “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by C. G. Jung and talking about the journals documenting his dreams and how they have later influenced or actually developed in some of his work projects (one example being the Anish Kapoor exhibition in 2009). He talked about one of his friends, a musician, whose guitar singing tried to resemble “the flight of a butterfly”, Harry’s foretelling dream from a few nights before ending in the words “until the last butterfly”. He also mentioned Stefan Sagmeister‘s sabbatical year practice (Harry being good friends with him) and the benefits of taking time off, traveling — Harry being a huge fan of India and the East in general.

Stefan Sagmeister's poster on dreams

This fourth part ended with a humorous conclusion, showing Stefan Sagmeister’s “My Dreams have no meaning” work (part of his book/project “Things I have learned in my life so far“, also a magazine cover designed for the Centre Pompidou in Paris). Stefan sent this to Harry, to which he replied with a similarly-designed poster:
“But Harry’s do.”

5. STREET ALCHEMY

Harry Pearce and Alan Fletcher

The last part of the event returned to Alan Fletcher and Harry’s photographs again, on a more personal note, Harry telling of his last meetings with Alan before his death. Also touched during the Q&A, Harry reminded all of us how important is keeping a child-like openness of heart, one of the traits Alan Fletcher and his work so easily seemed to benefit from.

His presentation ended with this beautiful dedication from his mentor:

A PERSONAL CONCLUSION

All in all, a very inspiring event. I think the most important thing that I’ve (re)learned is that one must always keep feeding the creative soul, especially through personal projects. Maybe you like collecting old typewriters, maybe you enjoy photography, maybe you like to get your hands dirty with clay modelling, pottery, sculpture or even carpentry or maybe you simply enjoy some good old pencil drawing. It does not matter, just as long as you get away from your daily work (and I would definitely add getting away from the computer) and let your mind roam free. The Design Challenge project was born from a similar need, with the help of a few friends (hopefully, it’ll start again with the new year). I’ve also been thinking of a new project for weeks now, something more personal, more like a daily exercise to keep your muscles fit — Harry’s lecture really helped in pushing this project up to the top of my to do list.

Looking forward to more inspiring events. Thank you, Harry.


Main sources (besides my own notes and photos):
Pearcing Thoughts, on Design Week (subscription required);
Pentagram at the Design Museum on Noisy Decent Graphics;
— AIGA’s blog on Harry’s first lecture;
— AIGA Flickr slideshow with some of Harry’s works.


Later update: you can now watch Harry’s very similar presentation for Design Indaba. Got two clearer images as well, the first being the tree in Zanzibar with the witty sign, the second with Alan Fletcher’s drawing:

A witty sign from Zanzibar.

Alan Fletcher's drawing for Harry.

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‘Gastrotypographicalassemblage’ — Lou Dorfsman’s Most Impressive Creation

November 11, 2010, 12:50 AM

Just like the other greats, Lou Dorfsman‘s work is always a pleasure to watch, to analyze, to admire silently, filled with awe. Known mostly for overseeing the identity of the CBS channel for more than 40 years, Lou Dorfsman was a master typographer and designer, involved in all the aspects of CBS’ branding. Luckily, the Shoreditch-based Kemistry Gallery recently held an exhibition presenting one of Dorfsman’s most impressive works, the 11-metre wide handmade wooden typographic wall entitled “Gastrotypographicalassemblage”.

The exhibition's poster

Here are some more details from the gallery’s website (link):

Created during an era when designers were both artisans and well-trained communicators, the wall is the largest modern typographic artefact in existence, described by Michael Bierut as ‘an irreplaceable piece of design history.’ With custom type created by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, the wall contains almost 1500 individual characters.

“There are few pieces that represent the typographic and design spirit that illuminated that moment of history, and certainly none on a scale as ambitious.” — Milton Glaser.

The original wall is still in restoration, but even if finished, moving it would’ve been quite a feat — the gallery showed a large, 1/2 scale print of the wall. Several parts were reproduced in real size, though. Other posters and prints were presented as well, next to a huge plastic CBS logo and an old TV from the wall’s era. More photos after the jump.

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