Into the Open: Positioning Practice March 2009

Exhibition design and graphics for the New York version of the U.S. Pavilion from the Venice Architectural Biennale 2008, curated by Aaron Levy and William Menking. The exhibition focuses on socially-engaged architecture practices that are redefining American architecture. Collaboration with Saylor+Sirola.

Into the Open: Positioning Practice

Installation photography by Whitney Cox, Matthew Sussman, and Prem Krishnamurthy

Design notes from exhibition publication

Into the Open: Positioning Practice expands upon the participatory nature of the Kellen Gallery’s mandate. The design is conceived as a multi-layered installation comprising several components: chalkboard painted walls, large stenciled texts, informally-arranged images, multiple digital projections, text banners and display furniture. Through their juxtaposition, these elements dynamically articulate current alternative architectural, artistic and educational practices and methods.

Large-scale artifacts and objects are placed specifically to highlight the multiple social perspectives contained within the exhibition. Given this complex spatial situation, the gallery visitor is invited to actively occupy multiple positions in order to engage with the form and content of the show.

A central spatial element in the exhibition is Estudio Teddy Cruz’s billboard-like representation of the Mexican-American border. In its original presentation in Venice, this scrim subverted the façade of the U.S. Pavilion: it served as a literal barrier through which the visitor had to pass in order to enter the national space. In New York, this banner has been repurposed to create a meeting and screening room. Within this new context, Cruz’s piece is not a literal border crossing but rather a psychological space where the public can gather to exchange ideas about ever-shifting border situations.

Another primary object on display are planters for the Yale Sustainable Food Project, designed specifically for this show. These asymmetrical constructions respond to the Kellen Gallery’s architecture and also to its street presence. This indoor “demo garden” is a departure from Venice; it now highlights urban food production that can take place on stoops, rooftops, fire escapes, window boxes or inside homes. The ongoing gardening of the containers will add a social component to the daily life of the exhibition.

Full-height banners visualize and spatialize the numerous discourses that inform the show. Fore-grounding the exhibition’s textual components encourages a conceptual understanding of the participants’ approach and process—often as important as their finished works. Through their scale and strong graphic presence, the banners allow the curatorial texts to make their case directly.

Cool Wool, designed by Alessio Leonardi and Priska Wollein in 1994, serves as the display typography for oversized associative phrases. The typeface merges a rational grid-like structure with an exceptionally imprecise form. Due to its matrix construction, Cool Wool can be spray painted by hand as an inexpensive stencil. This combination of typographic languages, contrasting refinement and rawness, speaks to the diverse mix of approaches within the show.

Immersive, bold, and interactive, the design of Into the Open seeks to emphasize the urgency and insight of these 16 practices’ work. The curatorial intent is to inform—but commentary and participation are essential. The gallery space, painted completely with green chalkboard paint, is an open forum for spontaneous feedback by visitors and students. We hope that you will take this opportunity to respond to the exhibition and add yet another layer to the mix: your thoughts, marks and voice.

Ken Saylor, Saylor+Sirola
Prem Krishnamurthy, Project Projects