Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kansas City Design Week -- part 1

A view from my hotel window.

Well, first I'd like to extend an apology to anyone who at previous times has enjoyed reading my musings or looking through the pictures on my blog. I have been writing a ton about a ton of things, but unfortunately, it has not been on this blog.

In recent days I have written ~20 pages of my book, two short stories, drunk roughly my body weight in cinnamon tea, read a number of amazing books, and -- (and here we come to the point of this post) -- volunteered to cover a few events of Kansas City Design Week for This Big City blog.

(The somewhat ironic twist is that I very well may be coming down again next weekend to visit a friend [hi Kara!] who was in Chicago at the AWP conference this one.)

So now I am in Kansas City, where I have not been since I came with my mom and dad for a veterinary conference sometime in high school (I'm going to guess sophomore year of high school, but that could be two years off either way.) That time Mom and I actually spent most of our time visiting historic houses in Independence, so my familiarity with the city is mostly based on stories from my parents.

I was a touch nervous about driving down here by myself (code for: super duper anxious but kind of embarrassed about it given all my previous travels), but I-29 south is pretty much just as empty as I-29 north. Lots of hills. Lots of barns. Lots of fields. I thought about getting off in Hamburg to see if their mighty dike was still there but refrained, as I didn't know how bad the traffic would be and I wanted to allow myself plenty of time to be lost. Mom had packed me a bag of food (thanks Mom) so that I wouldn't have to spend much at restaurants (though I am still thinking about searching out a barbecue joint for the sake of my tourist soul), so I munched on almond granola bars as I came down, particularly after a failed excursion into St. Joseph for a Wendy's. (Got off on the marked exit, drove around, couldn't find it, got back on the interstate.)

Kansas City made a pretty damn good showing as I drove in. It's a river-and-rail city, like Omaha, and coming in on Broadway you drive along the tracks for a few miles, then go over a fine bridge over the Missouri. Admittedly it had an unfair advantage on me, as I can fall in love with almost any city if I visit it on a day with good light.

The first event was at the Atkins-Nelson Museum of Art, which I miraculously drove straight to (score 100 for semi-regular city grids with numbered streets.) It's bigger than the Joslyn but not as big as the MFA. I was an hour and a half early, so I walked around and did what I do in art museums: Sketch random bits of things that I like.

Frenzy, 1910, by Ernst Barlach
I think after strenuous encouragement at Fontainebleau to sketch in tones rather than lines, I am finally beginning to develop a bit of a technique for it. I blame watercolor.

Roman sarcophagus, found in Rome, 240-260 AD. The woman on the left is Minerva; the two on the right are Muses.

Avatar, 1947, bronze casting by Isamu Noguchi.
One of most interesting exhibits in the Atkins-Nelson from a designer's point of view is the Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden, a room with five of his large bronze and stone sculptures. (I got reeeeeal friendly with Noguchi's furniture design work during my internship in 2010.)

Also really enjoyed Chromoplastic Mural, by Luis Tomasello (2011) for the smart use of reflected light.
The talk was on development in the last ten years of graphic design by author and designer Ellen Lupton. My name had not been added to the registration list (oops?), but they had some empty seats so I went in anyway.

It wasn't quite what I expected -- it was more about how the ideas informing graphic design have changed over that period of time than visual trends. She talked about how designers strove to become authors, and how authorship became diffused by means of digital production methods, and how designers became sort of secondary or subversive authors by presenting a visual language that was at odds or different from the intended message of the words of the client. She also used the phrase "device slut" and was a very funny, engaging speaker all around. I'm still brainstorming on how to connect her talk to visual branding in the city, or homegrown graphic design as a response to unanswered needs (as she said, homemade signs spring up in places where the architect failed.)

The talk was only about an hour, so then I went back to wandering around the museum.

This is the native Chinese horse, shown in a bronze from 475-221 BC. King of reminds me of Kate Beaton's Shetland pony. This also probably explains why the Chinese were not super impressed by horses until they imported taller, more elegant-looking ones from Central Asia. 

The aforementioned more elegant horse,  in a Tang dynasty ceramic figure from 618-906 AD.
Of course, I already spent a large portion of my money designated for this trip on a book. Figures.

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