This postmodern art movement began in the late 1980s and involves characteristics of fragmenting and distorting, where radical freedom and form are encouraged in unconventional designs. We may be most familiar with Deconstructivism through architecture. Buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain are one of the recognizable examples that fall under this particular style. Deconstructivism however, is used to label not only architecture, but also graphic design, fashion, and products. In this paper, we will be examining Deconstructivism's history, the various concepts and artists that make up this particular art movement, and its utilization in graphic design.
"Deconstructing is to deform a rationally structured space so that the elements within that space are forced into new relationships" (Samara 122). It features a lot of chopping up, layering, and fragmenting. Initially, the Deconstructivist architects were influenced by the philosophy and ideas of French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The theory of deconstruction from Derrida's work argues that deconstruction "is not a style or 'attitude' but rather a mode of questioning through and about the technologies, formal devices, social institutions, and founding metaphors of representation" (Typotheque). It is very much history as well as theory. Derrida introduces us to this idea of deconstruction in his book, Of Grammatology. In his theory, we question the idea of how representation dwells in reality. For Derrida, Deconstructivism was an extension of his interest in radical formalism. In the 1970s, architects that embraced Deconstructivism saw it as a means to assess the supposedly unifying and idealistic ways of the Modern movement, and sought to break apart the concept of classical order and space. In architecture, Deconstruction attempted to shift away from the restricting "rules" of modernism that involved ideas of "purity of form" and "form follows function". "Purity of form" refers to "purism" which is actually a form of Cubism, another art movement that was brought upon by the French painter Amedee Ozenfant. Artists under purism were precise in their use of geometric form and interested in proportion that was pure. The principle of "form follows function" is exactly as its name implies: its idea is that the form or shape of the building or architecture that is being made should be largely based on its intended function. Deconstructivism essentially opposed the ordered rationality of Modernism.
A most memorable event that greatly impacted and crystallized the Deconstructivist movement was the 1988 Museum of Modern Art exhibition entitled, Deconstructivist Architecture. Among the architects that presented at the exhibition were Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, and Bernard Tsuchumi. Eisenman was greatly influenced by Derrida, and the two directly collaborated on projects together. They were both deeply interested in the concept of the "metaphysics of presence," which was the central focus of Deconstructivist philosophy in the theory of architecture. Frank Gehry is an award-winning architect who is well-known for such works as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain as well as the Weisman Museum of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tsuchumi was an architect of French and Swiss heritage whose winning entry for the Parc de la Villete Competition in Paris garnered much attention and celebration. Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, the curators of the 1988 MOMA exhibition stated that "The projects in this exhibition mark a different sensibility, one in which the dream of pure form has been disturbed. It is the ability to disturb our thinking about form that makes these projects deconstructive" (Johnson).
Katherine McCoy is an influential designer under this particular art movement, who made a move starting from industrial design to graphic design. She began her career in 1967 at Unimark International, and then worked as a graphic designer for a number of companies. Then in 1971, Katherine and her husband, an industrial designer, founded their design consultancy McCoy & McCoy Associates and became co-chairs of the design department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Katherine became well-known for her graphic design at the Academy. In teaching the programs there, she recalls combining an "objective" typographic approach with an interest in the social and cultural activism that was present during the late 1960s. By the 1980s, the program, despite being controversial at times, became recognized as one of the most innovative programs of design education in the United States. In an interview, McCoy tells us that she discovered typography in the course of industrial design and began to develop a love of typeforms when she took graphic design courses at her university. "I found I had a natural affinity for the logic of grids," she says (Eye Magazine).
From the mentioning of grids, we come to the exploration of grid deconstruction in graphic design. By deconstructing a grid, we are breaking down a structure to discover new spatial or visual relationships. Breaking down or altering a structure can be done through methods such as "cutting" and shifting apart major areas, either horizontally or vertically. Overlapping grid modules or columns can produce a perception of layers in the composition. In graphic design, there is also "linguistic deconstruction" which involves treating the composition's text in particular ways in order to give a "voice" to visual language. To do so, certain phrases or words could be broken apart to bring attention to certain sections. Text can also appear "louder" or "faster" if they are made larger or bolder. Through methods of linguistic deconstruction, associations and meanings can be created from the treatment of the text to form meaning and a natural rhythm of communication.
We explored a bit of the history of Deconstructivism and the artists and concepts that make up this postmodern art movement. "Deconstructing" is about disturbing the way we think about form and ultimately, it is about the discovery of new relationships. In graphic design, these could be visual and spatial relationships; and by altering and breaking down areas in particular ways, it will influence the way we observe those relationships.
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Heller, Steven. "Edward Fella: Letters on America". Typotheque. 2001. 16 February 2009.
Johnson, Philip. Deconstructivist Architecture: The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, New York: Little Brown and Company, 1988.
"Katherine McCoy". High Ground Design. 1998. 16 February 2009.
Lupton, Ellen. "Deconstruction and Graphic Design: History Meets Theory". Typotheque. 1994. 16 February 2009.
Poynor, Rick. "After Cranbrook: Katherine McCoy on the Way Ahead". Eye Magazine: The International Review of Graphic Design. 2001. 3 March 2009.
Samara, Timothy. Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop. Beverly, Massachusetts: Rockport, 2002.
Wild, Lorraine. "Katherine McCoy: Expanding Boundaries". The American Institute of Graphic Arts. 1999. 3 March 2009.