A Walker tradition that always looks forward

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 22, 2011 - 2:34 PM

Notables in the design world come to Walker Art Center to offer a 25th year of Insights.

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Casey Caplowe is creative director of Good, a LA design shop

Some couples splurge on cruises to mark their silver anniversaries. Others just reaffirm their vows and carry on, which is pretty much the approach of Walker Art Center and the AIGA, a professional design association. For the past 25 years, Minnesota's premier contemporary art center and its top design group have partnered to produce Insights, an annual lecture series that's a big-deal showcase for cutting-edge design and communication concepts.

"We had a lot of trauma because of the 25th anniversary," said Andrew Blauvelt, the Walker's curator of architecture and design. "But finally we decided to do what we've always done, which is to bring in some people from down the street and around the world."

Launched in 1986 when "postmodernism" was the buzzword du jour, Insights has been around long enough to embrace both new digital technologies and a revival of mid-20th-century design. The popularity of "Mad Men," for instance, has given a whole new gloss to skinny ties, martini glasses and '60s typography. The show also has stimulated design consciousness by insinuating the field's history and concepts into its plots.

"There's a whole awareness of 'branding' products, for example, though they didn't call it that then," Blauvelt said. "They identify women, teens and, later, African-Americans as potential 'markets,' so they're tapping into this history about advertising, and it's fun to see that come to life."

That resonates in the Twin Cities, which is among the nation's more design-savvy cities, Blauvelt said. In addition to having an unusual abundance of nationally known ad firms, Minnesota is home to a strong modernist tradition in architecture, exemplified by the work of Julie Snow, Vince James and David Salmela, among others.

"Architectural practice here has always had modernist continuity and never got sidetracked by that postmodernism of the '80s," Blauvelt said. "And it's more relevant now than at any time previously."

Some of that forward-looking traditionalism played into the selection of the five Insights guests who will speak at the Walker:

March 1: Kevin Quealy, New York Times graphics editor, whose team produced a clever Tetris-style interactive chart for readers to solve the U.S. budget deficit.

March 8: Michael Hart, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based advertising firm Mono, whose clients include Herman Miller, Apple, Blu Dot, Airstream and USA Network.

March 15: James Goggin, director of design, print and digital media at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. He earned his fame in London, where clients of his firm, Practise, included the Tate Modern, Britain's Channel 4, Archangel and the Design Museum.

March 22: Julie Beeler, co-founder of Second Story Interactive Studio in Portland, Ore., specializes in technology-related design, specifically turning stories into interactive experiences via installations, websites, motion graphics and 3-D visualizations.

March 29: Casey Caplowe, creative director of Good, a high-concept Los Angeles design shop that publishes a magazine, operates a website and stages events.

Mid-century design exhibit

Simultaneously, St. Paul's College of Visual Arts will offer a snapshot of early work by one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, Paul Rand.

The exhibit "bRANDs: The Early Years (1941-1955)," which runs through March 12, showcases trademarks, print advertising, packaging, signage and other visual concepts by Rand, whose edgy European-modern typography, colors and marketing concepts revolutionized retail in the post-World War II era.

Noon-6 p.m. Wed. & Fri., noon-8 p.m. Thu., noon-4 p.m. Sat., 173 Western Av., St. Paul. 651-757-4080 or www.cva.edu

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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  • Interactive design, "Age of Mammals," by Julie Beeler

  • INSIGHTS

    When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays in March

    Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-375-7600 or Walkerart.org

    Tickets: $90 for series, $20 each or free via webcast at Walkerart.org

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