One of the great things about working in MoMA’s Department of Advertising and Graphic Design is the range of projects we get to work on. Our work ranges from advertising to exhibitions to printed materials and internal signage. Most recently, we got a chance to collaborate with MoMA’s retail department to develop products for the Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition.
Our challenge was to develop a flexible identity system that would work on a wide range of different retail products—large, small, narrow, wide, flat, and three-dimensional—and that would also function in the exhibition space.
When designing an identity for an exhibition there is a fine line we are always aware not to cross: we don’t want our design to become a copy of the artwork. Instead of looking at the formal characteristics of an artwork, we often look at underlining concepts and narratives that are the driving forces behind an exhibition. In the case of the cut-outs, this was Matisse’s art-making process and studio environment.
And his process went well beyond paper and scissors. After carefully cutting out a piece of gouache-painted paper, Matisse would pin the pieces directly to the wall of his studios. And then he would repin them. And pin them again. The works on the walls were constantly being rearranged—shifting configurations and compositions like a living organism that was always influx. The pinning itself was also imperfect and demonstrated the tactile nature of the cut-outs. We went through multiple explorations of how this practice could express itself through typography always trying hard to avoid any literal reference to “cutting out.”
Our final design is an identity that constantly changes, reflecting the underlying narrative of the exhibition as well as being functional when applied to differently shaped products. Movement and dynamism is added to the individual text lock-ups by using oblique and backslant letters. This also speaks to the imperfect quality of pinning up the cut-outs.
We proposed a series of products, ranging from totes to custom bandages (who knows, maybe you will be inspired to do your own cut-outs and this might come in handy!). We predominantly used a special blue color inspired by key pieces from the exhibition like the Blue Nude series and The Swimming Pool. We also introduced hints of orange and fuchsia—all taken from Matisse’s own palette.
The result is a fun array of products that have strong energy, bold color, and broad appeal. So far, they are the most successful exhibition products to be sold in the MoMA Stores. Take a look at MoMAstore.org and see what Matisse-inspired gifts you’ll want to take home.