The new exhibit at the new Pioneer Square gallery Non-Breaking Space showcases powerful graphic design work over the decades that has confronted racism and women’s rights, among other issues.
Millions are expressing concerns and fears about the state of affairs under President Trump. As they have for decades, protesters deploy visual and rhetorical strategies, wearing T-shirts and buttons, brandishing posters, distributing fliers and postcards.
A brand-new exhibition in a brand-new, graphic-design gallery offers a concise, powerful sampling of 50 years of this kind of protest and critique. “The Design of Dissent” at Non-Breaking Space shows how creative practitioners have confronted issues like racism, women’s rights, environmental protection, threats from Russia and, yes, immigration bans.
Some of the posters, apparel, magazines and other items of graphic design will be instantly recognizable to many.
‘The Design of Dissent’
11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through April 6, Non-Breaking Space, 532 First Ave. S., Seattle; free (non-breaking.space)
A bold, pink triangle glows against a black background in the well-known SILENCE=DEATH poster used by a group of the same name — and, later, by Act Up — in the 1980s. They protested governmental indifference to AIDS, social discrimination and the taboos around discussions of safer sex.
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Also in the 1980s, the art-activist group The Guerrilla Girls asked, “Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met?” Their vivid yellow poster features a reclining female nude wearing a guerrilla mask.
Back in the 1960s, designers like Archie Boston and Seymour Chwast transformed the symbol of Uncle Sam to comment on racism and America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
“The Design of Dissent” was originally organized in 2005 by designer Milton Glaser and esteemed art director Mirko Ilic. The current show has been re-curated and updated, with the support of Glaser and Ilic, by the folks at Civilization, a highly respected design studio. The gallery is in the front of Civilization’s new workspace in Pioneer Square.
While searching for new offices, firm co-founders Michael Ellsworth and Corey Gutch, along with creative director Gabriel Stromberg, rekindled discussions about opening a gallery as part of their commitment to design education.
Civilization already hosts successful lectures and podcasts and, according to Gutch, “when this space became available, it was a great opportunity to have a gallery and workspace together, to continue these conversations, with the community and with history.”
Molly Derse, who oversees Civilization’s programs and partnerships, says, “It’s happened incredibly fast. We were heartbroken after the election and were discussing ways that we could express what we were feeling, how we could do something using what we love and what we do, which is design. We were going to start the gallery later, most likely in the spring, but we decided, ‘Let’s do this show now.’ ”
They’ve also filled a big gap in exhibition practices; a gallery devoted to graphic design is a rare thing globally.
The name for their gallery, Non-Breaking Space, refers to a digital coding term, to the intersection of the studio’s various activities, to finding strength in community and to bringing significant examples of design — so often experienced online — into the real world.
It’s a small space, and they weren’t able to host the entire original show. But they not only borrowed key pieces, they added some historical works and some hot-off-the-press examples from 2016 and 2017 from Barbara Kruger, Paula Scher and Experimental Jetset, among others.
During a recent walk-through with Civilization’s designers, they were clearly excited about opening their gallery with such prominent examples of design history. According to Ellsworth, “One of the pillars of our studio is ‘Design for Social Change’ and, from the very beginning, when we formed the studio, these were iconic works that we bonded over. These are our heroes.”
Stromberg adds that engaging with design in a gallery setting can be important for young designers and the community at large.
“We get ideas and inspiration from history constantly. More people are starting to see that design is valuable, and that we have a whole history that’s really worth looking at, not only because it’s amazing and beautiful, but also because it’s a reference point for how we can solve problems today.”