International designers splash stylish ideas on a construction fence and in talks this month.
A construction fence poses a big problem for a stylish joint like Walker Art Center, which starting this week will be surrounded by one for the rest of the year.
The aesthetic equivalent of a black eye, the fence will wrap around the museum’s 1971 wing while that building’s deteriorating brick facade is removed and replaced. The museum will remain open throughout the $7 million to $8 million renovation project, scheduled for completion in December. But the Walker’s staff wanted a snazzy way to signal that fact to potential visitors who might be dissuaded by the cranes, scaffolding and trucks on site.
Enter Los Angeles designer Geoff McFetridge, whom the Walker hired to spiff up the fence and kick off “Insights,” a four-part design lecture series that runs every Tuesday night in March. A veteran of previous Walker projects, including its 2011 exhibit “Graphic Design: Now in Production,” McFetridge is a cross-disciplinary wiz whose art has been seen in films (“Beautiful Losers”) and music videos (OK Go), on wallpaper and Nike sneakers, and in shows from Tokyo to Berlin.
“We chose him because he has a simple graphic style and experience with large-scale murals, so we knew that whatever he came up with would be intelligible for people driving by at 30 or 40 miles per hour,” said Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s design director.
McFetridge offered three designs. The one that the Walker picked will unfold like a film script on the translucent mesh fencing material.
“We fixated pretty quickly on one with human forms that morph into abstraction, then return to humans and then go back to shapes,” Byrne said. “It’s printed primarily in orange, dark gray and white with a few sections in rainbow hues. He’s very easygoing and was looking for feedback, but we thought he got it right from the start.”
That project inspired the “surfaces” theme for the 2013 “Insights” lectures, an annual program co-sponsored by the Walker and AIGA Minnesota, a professional association of graphic artists. Besides talking about their own work, each designer will do a project dealing with a “surface” at the Walker — the outside, the inside, the social, the virtual.
“We’re trying to bring something different to Minneapolis that people here wouldn’t be able to see easily,” said Byrne. “We’re definitely looking internationally to designers who do real, client-based work, but also have their own projects. Often they play dual roles as designer and artist. Usually they have strong perspectives on how design is moving culture forward. While some are natural crowd-pleasers, others can be pretty challenging.”
McFetridge will speak Tuesday, followed by Berlin-based Eike Konig on March 12. Konig’s studio is known for practical projects, clever animations and conceptual whimsy — including a fictional band in which the whole staff “performs.” He’s inventing something for the Walker’s website “that is the most nebulous right now,” Byrne said.
Two Amsterdam designers round out the series. Job Wouters, a modernist calligrapher and typographer, will talk March 19. Luna Maurer, a conceptualist whose work runs the gamut from graphic design to interactive performance, concludes the series March 26.
A true multitasker, Wouters will be doing hand-lettering while he lectures, and plans to paint the word “Home” in ornate, mural-sized letters in the Walker’s cinema lobby.
“It’s his reaction to the white cube architecture of museums, which can be really intimidating,” Byrne said. “He wants to make our visitors feel welcome, and writing the word HOME in letters 10 feet tall is his way of doing that.”
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431