Walker Art Center

Bits & Pieces_Lawrence Weiner

Original research posted on The Design Encyclopedia; the Wiki has been updated with further revisions (from other authors) that improve the overall material, depth, and accuracy of content.
Photo: Lawrence Weiner. “Bits & Pieces.”  Walker Art Center, Hennepin Ave. facade. Minneapolis, MN. 1996.


Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center, a multidisciplinary arts museum located in Minneapolis Minnesota formally established itself in 1927. The Walker established itself and its institutional programs internationally with its commitment to display the world’s foremost visual, performing and media artists. From its early inception, the Walker continually positioned itself towards the advancement of contemporary art and has made significant contributions to the graphic design community.

The Walkers publication Design Quarterly (1946-1993) originally was published in 1946 as the Everyday Art Quarterly: A Guide to Well Designed Products. The editorial focus aimed to bring modern design to the masses through thoughtful examination of household objects and their designers. Design Quarterly editors Martin Filler, 1992-1993; Mildred Friedman, 1972-1992; continuously encouraged dialogue between the curatorial department, art directors, authors, artists, performers, contributors and museum patrons. Design Quarterly editors frequently invited prominent guest designers such as Rob Roy Kelly (DQ56) Wolfgang Weingart and Armin Hofmann (DQ130) and Scott Makela (DQ 158) to present relative subject matter.

Influential issues of the journal include Design Quarterly 56 (1963) American Wood Type, authored and designed by Walker Art Center designer Rob Roy Kelly. He used DQ to publish his extensive historical research on documenting and preserving the beauty of a fading and disregarded profession and craft. Design Quarterly 130 (1985) Editor Mildred Friedman introduced Armin Hofmann and Wolfgang Weingart in a double issue, reproducing the similar duality of each design educator. A clear and concise connection linked visual interpretation with the act of making. Armin Hofmann: Thoughts on the Study and Making of Visual Signs, in which Hofmann reproduced student work visualizing design theory and methodology in combination with individual expression, produced rich design interpretations. Weingart: My Typography Instruction at the Basle School of Design/ Switzerland, presented student typographic studies. Weingart’s Swiss students used drawing, film collage, and advances offered by the early Macintosh computers to present new worlds of graphic possibilities.

Over its fifty-year history, Design Quarterly continuously focused its concerns on book and product reviews. Topic specific articles from decorative arts, architecture, environmental planning, cultural objects, product design, typography, and contemporary graphic design issues were explored in detail. The quarterly journal was produced solely under Walker editorial direction until 1983. Subsequent issues of Design Quarterly were co-produced with the MIT Press Journals department. Design Quarterly 159, spring 1993, was the last issue to be edited and designed by the Walker Art Center’s in-house design staff. Subsequent Design Quarterly issues would be solely edited and produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with former Walker designer Robert A. Jensen. (DQ 111/112-120)

Walker editor Mildred Friedman and designer Glen Suokko organized the exhibition Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History in 1989. The exhibition and catalogue contributors included: Katherine McCoy, Lorraine Ferguson, Douglas Scott, Matthew Carter, Stephen Heller, Lorraine Wild, Ellen Lupton, Abbott Miller and Caroline Hightower in cooperation with AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) (AIGA) members. The visually rich and historically acute exhibition presented graphic design samplings from the nineteenth century through 1989. The exhibition highlighted historical works with contemporary cultural and critical analysis. Essays and graphic depictions covered early historical design artifacts, a running time line depicting works created in reference to historical narrative, the affects of technology on graphic design, and interviews with designers set as contextual case studies.

Walker Art Center’s art director Laurie Haycock Makela,1991-1996; had a large influence on contemporary institution graphics by commissioning Matthew Carter to design the museums first institutional typeface. Originally, part of a typographic commission including Carter, Ed Fella, and Zuzana Licko for Design Quarterly 158 (1993) this new typeface would create and form the central aesthetic of the Walkers new identity. Matt Eller and Santiago Piedrafita, with the control of in-house design services, were able to respond through hundreds of support publications that elaborated upon the Walker Art Center’s programming and the aerobatic nature of the museums new identity system.

The visual richness through the 1990’s was an integrated and idiosyncratic response of the Walker’s in-house design team. Layering interactions between curatorial staff, designers, events planners allowed the complex dialogue to be represented graphically in future Walker publications and promotional campaigns. The scale of international exhibition’s, performing arts, visual arts, membership events, film/video, teen programming, and adult education provides the design department with a varied array of materials for production. With a continuation of 4-10 publications a year, 10 exhibitions running in two month cycles, the in-house staff lays at the heart of the visual presence of the institution.

Walker publications focus their efforts on the dynamic and forward thinking presentation of exhibiting artists theory and practice. Presentation of the permanent collection and traveling exhibitions gives each publication an integrated and aesthetic voice. Each document layers contemporary critical and curatorial analysis allowing each collection to be easily understood and thematically addressed. The relevance to the contemporary art collections of today, is matched with an institutional design response that accurately reflects the Walker’s attitudes, reinforcing its mission to provide a cultural model of multidisciplinary arts with innovative approaches to engage the audience and encourage reaction and support.

The Walker Art Center was quick and eagerly responsive to the introduction of the early World Wide Web, introducing www.walkerart.org in 1997. The Walker commissioned new media artists to explore and implement dynamic interactive content. Design elements in the Walker’s first web site would include an early VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). Developed for the Walker to display the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, included interactivity by combining 3D visual and audio clips with artists educating viewers about their work. The Walker continues to use current web technology to inform, educate, and stimulate its audience. The Walker invited work by digital media artist Piotr Szyhalski, posting his website Ding an sich, The Cannon Series (1996). According to Piotr, “the nature of interactive work is based on the idea that both the artist and the viewer make the decisions.” This ideology has been fully supported by the Walker’s new media department, and celebrated with continuing online material such as the Walker Channel, their online RSS feed. The Walker’s current live web casting program features a wide range of public programs, including lectures, readings, and presentations involving artists, scholars, and critics of contemporary art and culture, in addition to including archives, past panel discussions and musical and literary performances.

The Walker’s current design director and curator Andrew Blauvelt has recently been fully inclusive to the Walker’s New Media Initiative, supporting both print and digital design. Andrew has extended the Walker’s 2005 building expansion by visually addressing the complexities of Walker programming and its new facilities. Under Andrew’s direction, the in-house design team created the Walker without Walls Identity System (2004), a system to link the Walker’s services and community presence during the museums twelve months reconstruction, the Walker Art Center Opening Campaign (2005) “Where (blank) meets (blank).” Most recently, Walker Expanded (2006), were Blauvelt commissioned Minneapolis type designer Eric Olson, founder of Process Type Foundry, to create a typeface treatment as museum identity that signals a new and dynamic institution that is conceptually, visually, and technologically unique.

The Walker Art Center continues its forward momentum, with international support and acclaim. So to will the in-house design department under Andrew Blauvelt. As the institution advances with technology, it’s very nature of inter disciplinary support of new media, the performing arts, film/video, visual arts, and artist residencies, the design at the Walker will symbiotically react, thrive and remain visually sensitive to the needs of visual arts community for which the Walker serves.

Selected Bibliography

Cullen, Moira. “The space between the letters.” Eye. No.19, Vol. 5. Winter. 1995.
Kelly, Rob Roy. “American Wood Type.” Design Quarterly 56. Walker Art Center. 1963.
Makela, Laurie Haycock. “Three new faces.” Design Quarterly 158. Walker Art Center. Winter. 1993.
Makela, Laurie Haycock. “Walker design now.” Exhibition poster. Walker Art Center. 1996.
——. “Introducing the new design quarterly.” Walker Art Center. 1992.
Szyhalski, Piotr. “One art, Piotr Szyhalski.” Contact Sheet. Light Work Visual Studies, Inc. 2001.
Walker Art Center. Graphic design in America: A visual language history. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York. 1989.
Walker Art Center. Design Quarterly 130. Walker Art Center and Massachusetts of Technology. 1985.
Walker Art Center. Design Quarterly 148. Walker Art Center and Massachusetts of Technology. 1990.
Walker Art Center. Calendar. September 1997.

Related Links

Walker Art Center Featured Projects
Bits and Pieces Put Together to Present A Semblance of A Whole
Ding an sich Piotr Szyhalski

Lawrence Weiner Video | via. Hillmancurtis

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