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Designing women

November 27th, 2017

Image courtesy of the AGO

When you visit an exhibition, do you think about how the room made you feel? What the graphics surrounding the artwork said about the artist? How the lighting made the artwork pop? Exhibition and graphic designers think about all this and more in order to create the art behind the art you see on the walls.

We sat down with Kristina Ljubanovic, Exhibition Designer and Evelina Petrauskas, Graphic Designer to find out more about the design process behind Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry. From gorgeous graphics to a sparkling curved wall, from tufted velvety sofas to shimmering walls with mirrored ends, the design infuses the story of one of the early twentieth century’s most important artists.

AGO: How does design affect how our visitors see exhibitions?

Evelina: The design of an exhibition really helps to set the stage for your experience with the art.

Kristina: Most of the time, design of an exhibition is pretty invisible. Even so, it plays a role and impacts visitors in subtle ways – how they move through a space, where they pause, where they gather. Like Evelina said, the overall goal is really to set the stage for the artwork you’re about to see.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

AGO: What’s the first thing you do when you are planning the design for an exhibition?

Kristina: The first thing I do is to learn more about the artist – especially when I am less familiar with their work. This can happen through research and reading, but more often it comes from conversations with the curator and interpretive planner. For the Stettheimer show, I travelled to New York to see the artist’s works and get a better sense of Stettheimer’s New York.

Evelina: Research is so important! Beyond the artist, I also try to look at the time period to develop the style and themes.

AGO: What are some of the key design elements you chose for Stettheimer?

Kristina: Georgiana Uhlyarik, the curator, was keen to create a space that evoked Stettheimer’s unique style. Stettheimer was very invested in testing and using new materials, like cellophane, in her work, and she often presented her art in her own home – an environment that was carefully designed and furnished.

All the materials we chose for the exhibition (the metallic paint and fabric, the iridescent Mylar that lines the walls) were inspired by what Stettheimer used herself.

The curved wall, a major element within the exhibition, was meant to create a central space, or salon, for programs or more informal gathering and discussion. Stettheimer loved to showcase her work in salon format, so visiting the exhibition should be no different!

Evelina: Because Stettheimer is of the ‘20s – the key graphic elements are rooted in the Art Deco style and tweaked to include her personality. Stettheimer’s style was full of embellishments – so we referenced them: fringes, tassels, beading, organic curves, lace patterns and fabrics all influenced the design elements we used.

Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry Mood Board. Image courtesy of the AGO.

AGO: What is your favourite thing that you created in the Stettheimer exhibition?

Evelina: Definitely the title wall. It’s the first element I started with and what all the other graphic elements branch off from.

Kristina: My very favourite thing, believe it or not, is the wall colour! Initially, we went with an iridescent gold glaze for the walls, top to bottom. I loved how it looked, but the glaze was terribly difficult to work and appeared streaky in places. The team, led by Benjamin Oakley, an artist and one of our art services technician, created a new colour – a pale pink – which we painted in a band across the perimeter to address the issue. The colour was exactly right – very Stettheimer-y and it looks so great with the pinks in her canvasses! Most of all, I love that it was a response to a problem that the whole team worked together to solve.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

Make sure to check out the art AND the design in Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry while you still can! The exhibition closes January 28, 2018.

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