Designers Defend Democracy

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Taking Norman Rockwell's lead, contemporary designers, artists and even an ad man or two are lending their design chops for an art exhibit examining basic human freedoms in the present political climate.

The Wolfsonian museum and library in Miami Beach invited 60 artists and designers, including talents ranging from Chip Kidd, Ed Fella, Neville Brody to Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Pentagram, to reinterpret Norman Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" posters. (The originals were recently gifted to the museum.) The exhibit, "Thoughts on Democracy," went on display over Independence Day weekend.

The halls of the Wolfsonian, a museum that showcases everything from furniture design to advertising from the politically charged era between the Industrial Revolution and the end of the Second World War, is a fitting forum for a visual conversation between a peppered group of talent that represents the design world spectrum.

"The Wolfsonian has an interesting mix of things that became art, that weren't necessarily interpreted as art when they were designed," says Tiffany Kosel, who contributed to Crispin Porter + Bogusky's poster for the exhibit and is a creative director on the agency's Wolfsonian account. "You take your culture and your surroundings and people design products that are for consumption but are also based on political views or what's going on in culture. It's a mix of communicators, whether its traditional artists, designers, advertisers, even product makers. It becomes art in how it's perceived in the world of culture."

The contributors were asked to graphically reinterpret the "Four Freedoms" posters— inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's eponymous 1941 speech, when he outlined the essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Rockwell's work was first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and has since become part of the canon of popular American iconography.

"We want to connect our museum with contemporary artists, designers and current design culture," says Wolfsonian Art Director Tim Hossler, who conceived the project and co-curated the show with Steven Heller of the MFA Design Department at the School of Visual Arts. "A large part of our collection is propaganda arts, so this project connects designers with current politics and the medium."

"Wolfsonian has such a unique view of propaganda; they have a unique role that's sidelined at other museums that have design," says Kit Hinrichs, Pentagram San Francisco partner and exhibit contributor. "Because we're coming up to the election, there is more and more concern about if we're losing some freedoms, so in many ways, to go back to something as 'apple pie' as Norman Rockwell is a way to engage everybody, not just a unique political agenda."

The exhibit posters are also on display in the area's Aventura Mall through August, in newspapers and on billboards, thanks to partner and agency of record Crispin.

"The idea is also that the work should not just be in the museum," the Wolfsonian's Hossler says. "That means more than advertising for the show, but getting the posters and the work out into the public. People who can't come to museum should be able to view it and still be affected by it. "

"Thoughts on Democracy" is free and open to the public in the museum's lobby until December 7, 2008. The exhibition will culminate with an event during the Art Basel Miami Beach festival.

Below, Crispin and Pentagram contributors talk about their posters. Visit the exhibit's blog for more information or Flickr account to view the entire set of posters.

Paula Scher, Partner, Pentagram New York

The small text that surrounds the hands is taken from The New York Times and The Washington Post stories, which demonstrate the attrition of each freedom.

"I responded to the 'why now?' in my poster," Scher says. "We better take a look at these freedoms before they disappear."

"I wanted to make imagery that's heroic and sweet and even nostalgic like Rockwell to a degree, but also put some urgency into the message. I used hands symbolize the freedoms and to be Romantic. They're rendered soft and they have a glow about them; they're very simple. The words for the freedoms are very powerful and bold, but the copy discussing the freedoms is the truth about what's really going on in our current political structure. There's dichotomy between the sweetness of the image and the bite of the content."

Kit Hinrichs, Partner, Pentagram San Francisco "I often render new interpretations of the flag," says Hinrichs, who is an American flag collector and author on the subject—his most recent work is "100 American Flags" from Ten Speed Press.

"I put the flag into the art; it's a way to reutilize a very common American icon that attracts people because they have a sense of it right away, without having to go through multiple layers to understand what you have to say, making communications simple and quick. I've always designed for the audience. In this case, you're talking to the American public, so I was designing it, as they say, for my mother, so it's accessible to everyone."

Tiffany Kosel, Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky

"We liked that this idea was interactive with the fill in the blank," Kosel says. "More and more with design in politics, it's not just posters or print. There are web sites, people are making songs--everything is getting so interactive. This fits that idea, while still in the traditional print format. We focused on the speech freedom."
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