Five Experts Explain How They Discover the Best of New Art, Film, Literature, Comedy and Design

Who: Walker Art Center design director and curator Andrew Blauvelt

What they do: One of the “big five” national museums in the US, Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center has distinguished itself by keeping a keen finger on the pulse of design. As both the in-house design director and a curator at the museum, Blauvelt has both a maker’s and a curator’s take on the current scene.

What to look forward to: Design from Metahaven, Jonathan Puckey, David McCandless, Nicholas Felton, and seeing the exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production when it comes to your town.

One of the big transformations, in the time period between the last graphic design show at the Walker [1989] and our current Graphic Design: Now In Production is the Mac. There were losses of typesetters and all these craftspeople and production people that normally had a lot to do because of the specialization within how you produce something, how you print something. It was one of the first industries to be wiped out by the computer. That meant graphic designers had to learn more about typography than they ever did before. Now it’s to the point that, because so many people use the computer and the tools are innate within it, we have a whole font design cottage industry. The first wave was designers learning how to set their own type, control their own layout, make their own paste ups digitally. The second wave was the real promise of desktop publishing in the ’80s—graphic designers as users of print-on-demand services, things that will both automate production as well as distribute content. Designers have the same access now to a lot of these tools, but because the public is involved and there are many other people, it’s forced designers to up their game. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not so good because, on the one hand, it’s about value. What kind of value do you have when you call yourself a graphic designer? And sometimes that’s as crass as, like, what can you charge for it? I see a split in the field. One fork goes toward this kind of design management, design strategy, design innovation, which sees design as an essentially cerebral, white-collar enterprise. And then the other fork in the road is this revivalist blue-collar mentality around making culture—revival of silkscreen, letterpress, duplicator machines. It has a different vibe. It’s not totally nostalgic. I don’t know if that’s a reaction or not to all the virtualization around design, because in the old days you just made everything rather directly, and then it got put into a box.

One studio that I think is pretty avant-garde is Metahaven because they call themselves “researchers,” so this automatically displaces them out of a typical practice scenario. But they’re still very object-based and still very formally driven (even if they deny it). Their graphic language is the language of the internet. To a trained eye, you can discern the difference in it, but it’s partaking in that kind of free expression. They’re really placing themselves in this other weird context of things like Facebook, privacy arguments or anonymous hackers. I see it as a continuity of [design ideas] that started in the ’80s when there was really a rejection of a lot of the professionalization and the servile functions of typical graphic design in an avant-garde sense. Today’s avant-garde is just expanding those options, you could have a research practice, or you could become a publisher now. The only problem is that a lot of designers refuse to acknowledge that design is fashion—it is temporary, there is an aesthetic and there is a formalism to it. I don’t know if people would look at a great piece of wallpaper design and say, “Oh my god, who made that?” They might say, “Where can I buy it?” It might explain why a lot of design practice is starting to look like a lot of art practice. Maybe this is the unspoken strategy, that if it presents more like art, then maybe it signals that there is actually more to the story than just what you’re seeing.

Who: President of his own production company Friends Night, head of Fox-owned animation studio ADHD, Nick Weidenfeld

What they do: Create next-level comedy that continuously pushes the boundaries of what we think we’re comfortable with.

What to look forward to: A crop of wild new Saturday night shows on Fox next year.

Originally, I was a journalist. I had started [the magazine] While You Were Sleeping and was also writing other pieces as well. I was doing a piece for Esquire on Adult Swim—the early story of Adult Swim. While I was interviewing Mike Lazzo [Senior Executive VP at Adult Swim], he offered me a job as head of development. It was the weirdest thing. At the time, Adult Swim had no development. The shows were created internally with their staff, and they were a very small group. They were in Atlanta, I didn’t know many people outside of Atlanta. I’d come from New York and I’d been a writer, so I knew a lot of different people. I was definitely just more ambitious about going out and finding people. While they would create shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, they needed someone to help them grow and fill more time, and that became me. I would sort of develop the shows.

I wrote while I was at Adult Swim. I would write episodes of some of the shows when I was close with the creators. I wrote this musical called Freaknik: The Musical with my friend Carl Jones who was on Boondocks. After doing this for eight years and working with talent, I know how to develop shows. I really like the creative process. For Fox, I’m really building a studio and production company that will create lots of different programs and comedy animation for their Saturday night programming. I’m not on the creative side of it. Adult Swim pre-existed me, so I was trying to create shows that I felt served the brand of Adult Swim. We’re creating the brand for this new thing. I think there’s room in comedy for it to be younger and have a different kind of energy and sensibility than Adult Swim has because it’s been defined. I want to make stuff that feels like it’s responding to 18 to 34 year olds now—what we like, and how we feel. If you’re raised on Twitter and Tumblr and the internet, your way of understanding shit is going to be different. You’re going to process information differently. I personally think people want something that’s positive. Not positive as in, like, happy, but Odd Future to me feels like something that’s indicative of a movement. This high energy—even if you’re doing shit that’s totally fucked up and you’re pressing a lot of cultural buttons—Odd Future is about a collective. It’s about people wanting to be part of a big group. That’s what I think people are going to want out of any kind of comedy they watch. I think they want something that feels more inclusive. Jackass, to me, is perennial because it’s a group of friends, and even if they’re fucking with each other, they’ll still be friends. A lot of the stuff I’ve made in the past is not that. It’s definitely more aggressive, more, Are you smart enough to get this? I think there’s room for something that is not snarky and not ironic, that’s earnest but still not lovey-dovey or whatever, that still can be really fucked up but done in a much more positive, inclusive kind of way. I really do look at movements like Odd Future and see that there’s a reason why people are getting behind it. They’re not saying, We’re better than you. I think comedy for a lot of years was saying, We’re better than you. It was awesome comedy, but I think it’s been done a lot.

To me, the number one example of where comedy has gone and what’s interesting about it—and it doesn’t even feel totally different—is Workaholics on Comedy Central. It’s positive, it’s incredibly earnest and sincere and it goes in totally insane directions. They fuck with each other and everything. You see the kids from Workaholics making something totally mature, and you look at something like Adventure Time on the kids’ side. They’ve got the same attitude: they’re both insanely earnest. That’s something that I don’t think you’d have five years ago. That feels very young and new to me. I watch that shit and I get excited about it too. I feel like it’s tapping into something bigger.

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POSTED May 7, 2012 12:00PM IN ART+CULTURE, NWSPRINT TAGS: , , , , , ,




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