The women who are changing design

A new exhibit looks at the defining professional moments in the careers of seven female graphic artists

Published June 14, 2011 12:01AM (EDT)

What are the important pieces in your life as a designer? That was the starting point for Benchmarks: Seven Women in Design, an exhibition that looks at the significant professional or tipping point moments of seven women graphic designers. Showing at the Center Gallery at Fordham University Lincoln Center, New York, from June 10 to August 15, the exhibit includes Gail Anderson, Eileen Boxer, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Louise Fili, Carin Goldberg, Paula Scher and Lucille Tenazas. Each discusses specific works that made an impact on their methods and styles. The show began as a senior project in Abby Goldstein's graphic design class, curated with Lindsay Reichart, an art history major, who initiated the event. I spoke to both about where this show fits into the continuum.

Lindsay, as an art history major, what about graphic design history appeals to your sense of scholarship?

This project began with my senior thesis. My personal interest in the work of the Russian avant-garde directed me to Alexander Rodchenko. Which, in turn, along with the help of Abby, directed me to contemporary design work. My interest from there stemmed partly from the beauty and intentions of design, as well as design's position in Art History, as an often-overlooked art form. I find that design over the years, despite changes in environment, is always relevant and always accessible.

Abby, there have been a few exhibits that focus on women's achievements in design. And there have certainly been a large number of women in the field dating back to the turn of the century. Why an exhibition now with this focus?

As professor/director of the graphic design concentration at Fordham, part of my teaching approach is to curate exhibitions about design and typography. This exhibition came about from a discussion with Paul Shaw about what we felt was a lack of recognition of great women designers. Lindsay was taking a class in Feminism and Art and was looking to do a Senior Thesis project that combined her interests in Art History, Feminism in Art and Graphic Design. It seemed like the perfect combination.

Lindsay, tell me why you selected the designers that you did?

I started off with a list of about 75 women designers. I researched each one, and selected 30 designers. From there we put together a number of combinations, and decided to focus on designers living and working in New York. We chose 7 designers based on the unique qualities of their work as well as their positions as successful designers: Louise Fili, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Gail Anderson, Paula Scher, Lucille Tenazas, Eileen Boxer, and Carin Goldberg. An important part of my thesis project was to interview each designer and ask them a series of questions that pertain to their approach to design. The dialogue I had with each designer made me realize that their body of work is more significant and more widespread than I could have possibly imagined. With this exhibition I have been very fortunate to get to know so many wonderful designers. In the future, I would like to extend this project beyond New York.

Abby, what were your criteria for this exhibition?

We always start off with these big ideas. But because our gallery space and budget are small, we end up scaling down. We decided it would be a stronger exhibition if we focused on just a few established designers over the age of 50 who work in New York.

Lindsay, with the turning point as a focus, were you surprised by any of their responses?

Yes, each designer has had a different career path, lived in different places, has different interests outside of design, so each response has been an eye opener into the life of a designer. I found some of the most interesting turning points to be those between design work and the designer's personal artwork. Designers such as Paula use painting as a relief from design, whereas Eileen Boxer literally uses her invitations for Ubu Gallery to construct her artwork.

Abby, what other areas of graphic design scholarship await your students?

This is a moving target. Fordham is a Liberal Arts School with a Visual Arts major and a small concentration in Graphic Design. We try to introduce students to a wide range of design possibilities with a foundation in design basics, history and typography. We have developed a strong relationship with the Computer Science Information Department and have begun to offer classes and lectures in web, art, design and computer science.

Our focus is to introduce the students to the power of design as a communication tool. We give students practical experience so they can apply for entry-level jobs in print and web design. And we encourage students to work for a few years and apply to graduate school to continue their design studies.

Lindsay, what do you want the audience to take away from this exhibition?

I want people to realize the importance of design as an art form and its significance in art history. I would also like for people to realize the monumental successes of women designers today as well as the power and beauty of their work. I hope this exhibition is just the start in an ongoing project and I also hope that it brings an awareness to design education in art history.

(Designers from below top to bottom: Eileen Boxer, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Louise Fili, Lucille Tenazas, Paula Scher, Gail Anderson, Carin Goldberg.)

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

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By Steven Heller

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