Few art forms have changed and expanded as much in the last decade as graphic design. Home computing and the Internet have opened the field to just about everyone.
This weekend the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis launches a graphic design show surveying the best work over the last decade.
Mention graphic design and most people might think posters — you know, rock stars, French cafe ads, or typographically-styled slogans like "Just because your paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."
That kind of work is dated. At the entrance of the Walker's "Graphic Design: Now in Production" there's a poster wall, where the posters actually move. One of the designers, Thomas Castro, says each poster is generated by a recent post on a huge selection of news websites.
"We are getting that and we are designing new posters based on that information," Castro said.
Every minute or so a new poster displays. There are hundreds of them. And Castro says there is no longer reason to approach the poster to squint at the details.
"We have changed that around and said, 'Why doesn't the poster come to you?' "
Now if you lean towards a poster, motion sensors pick up the movement and expand the size. Lean in further and it generates a Quick Response code, one of those checkerboard patterns smartphones can read. Not only can you download a copy of the poster to your phone, it links you back to the original website.
The exhibit causes the viewer to reflect — studies estimate we are now bombarded by up to 5,000 visual messages a day. It's a side-effect of the graphic design explosion of the last 15 years.
Not long ago, few people knew what a font was, but now Ellen Lupton, is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, said anyone can try their hand at graphic design.
"With the proliferation of software tools, and distribution methods and production methods that have taken down the barriers between designers and everybody else," she said.
Lupton worked with the Walker's Andrew Blauvelt as the lead curators on the show. Blauvelt said it's difficult to even define what graphic design means any more.
"Graphic design was like printed material, but of course now it's like visual communication so it exists in many different medias, on screens as well as printed material."
The show exhibits pieces by 250 artists. To keep it from getting any larger, the curators focused on traditional areas such as posters, typography, books and magazines. Nonetheless, the walls and display tables are crammed with graphics, logos, and pictures. It's a visual feast, and hard not to gorge.
There are newspaper graphics, music posters, Technicolor graphic visualizations of statistics, and crowd sourcing. There's even a bright orange safety vest covered with warnings about the dangers of computers.
There's a giant chalk drawing robot. There are interactive music videos which a viewer can feed information to personalize a song. There's video-scribing, stop-motion techniques to add cartoon illustrations to an education lecture.
"Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth," the narrator says as the animator's hand produces an image of a somewhat-pained looking student at a desk. "They are being besieged by information from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertising, from hundreds of television channels. And we are penalizing them for getting distracted."
Given where it's showing, that is a little ironic.
"Graphic Design: Now in Production includes about 25 Minnesota artists, representing how the Twin Cities is a design powerhouse.
This isn't the Walker's first foray into the subject. In 1989, the Walker exhibited the first graphic design show by a major US museum, to popular response.
Blauvelt expects this show to draw crowds too. We live in a visual communications environment, after all, he said. Thinking back to those 5,000 messages that supposedly hit us daily, one might wonder if walking into the Walker show could double that number.