Walker Art Center

50° FFairVia Yahoo! Weather

About the Program

The Walker Art Center’s design legacy can trace its roots to its earliest days as a public art center. Daniel Defenbacher, its first director and an architect by training, initiated several pioneering projects to educate the public about the virtues of modern design. Among these initiatives were Idea Houses I and II (1941, 1947), the first museum exhibition homes to display the latest innovations in domestic architectural, product, and interior design. The Everyday Art Gallery, which opened in 1946 with Hilde Reiss as curator, became one of the first museum spaces in the United States dedicated to modern design. The Gallery offered an ambitious program of exhibitions, including special shows such as Well-Designed Articles from Minneapolis Stores, which underscored one of its primary purposes—educating the consumer about the benefits of modern design, an objective that would become a precursor of the “good design” movement of the 1950s. Another equally important goal was for design to act as a bridge for the public between the more practical and therefore accessible products of modern living and the unfamiliar, often abstract, world of modern art.

The Walker began publication of Everyday Art Quarterly in 1946, the first design journal issued by a museum. Through the Quarterly, audiences were introduced to the work of now-legendary designers. In 1954, the publication was renamed Design Quarterly, focusing on in-depth explorations of singular topics—an editorial practice that would continue until the 1990s. During the 1960s and 1970s, under the direction of Peter Seitz and later Mildred Friedman, the journal increasingly embraced topics that examined design’s impact on society. A range of subjects were explored that reflected the changing currents of design thinking: the visionary architecture of Archigram and Superstudio; issues of ecology and product obsolescence; the development of mass transit and urban renewal strategies; the ergonomics of everyday objects; and the impact of technology on design. The list of writers and contributors from this period reads as a who’s who of contemporary design.

Mildred Friedman, design curator from 1979 to 1991, sometimes in collaboration with Walker Director Martin Friedman, organized a series of groundbreaking exhibitions such as Sottsass/Superstudio: Mindscapes (1973); New Learning Spaces and Places (1974); Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller (1975); De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia (1982); The Architecture of Frank Gehry (1986), the architect’s first major museum exhibition; Tokyo: Form and Spirit (1986), featuring the work of Japanese designers such as Arata Isozaki, Tadanori Yokoo, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, and Eiko Ishioka; Architecture Tomorrow (1988–1991), a series of installations undertaken by Frank Israel, Morphosis, Todd Williams/Billie Tsien, Stanley Saitowitz, Diller+Scofidio, and Steven Holl; and Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History (1989), the first large-scale museum survey of the field in the United States.

Under Andrew Blauvelt, curator of architecture and design, the Walker continues to organize major exhibitions, including Herzog & de Meuron: In Process (2000), The Home Show (2000), Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life (2003), Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses (2005), Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes (2007), and Graphic Design: Now in Production (2011).

Two popular annual lecture series, which began in the 1980s, present architects and designers of international renown: the Summer Design Series, in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects Minnesota; and Insights, organized with AIGA Minnesota.

The department not only originates design-related exhibitions and lectures, but also produces the institution’s graphic identity and publications program. An in-house staff of editors and designers produces a complete range of materials, encompassing printed ephemera, environmental graphics, and exhibition catalogues. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Walker’s graphic identity served as a de facto model for modern art museums worldwide. In 1987, the American Institute of Graphic Arts presented its Design Leadership Award to the Walker—placing it in the company of IBM, MIT, Apple, the New York Times, Nike, and Herman Miller.

In the 1990s, the institution began to focus on new art forms and new audiences, which created an opportunity to reexamine its graphic identity. Laurie Haycock Makela, design director from 1991 to 1996, commissioned typographer Matthew Carter to develop a new typeface to reflect the multivalent character of a multidisciplinary arts center. This innovative font formed the basis of a visually dynamic identity. Under the direction of Haycock Makela, Matt Eller (1996–1998), Andrew Blauvelt (1998–2010), and Emmet Byrne (2010–present), the department developed a more flexible direction, shifting the Walker’s identity to less rigidly modernist style. Such an approach reflects the institution’s varied programs, the diversity of its changing audiences, and the increasing fragmentation of the marketplace.

Since the 1990s, the Walker has been the recipient of more than 100 design awards and has been featured in numerous design publications and exhibitions worldwide. Today, the Walker’s graphic identity is widely admired for its progressive approach and is frequently cited as a model for other contemporary art museums by extending the notion of institutional identity to a more comprehensive understanding of the complete museum experience.

In 2001, the department was nominated for the prestigious Chrysler Award for Design Innovation, and its work was exhibited at the Design Museum, London. Underscoring the institution’s continued leadership and innovation, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum awarded the 2009 National Design Award for Corporate/Institutional Achievement to the Walker, the first nonprofit institution to be recognized in this category.

The Walker has published more than 1,000 exhibition guides and books to date. This ambitious program gained strength in the 1980s, and evolved its distinctive approach in the ensuing decades. Whether an artist’s monograph, a catalogue raisonné, or a publication for a thematic group exhibition, Walker catalogues eschew formulaic approaches to uniquely reflect the intrinsic character of their subject matter. In the late 1990s, the program issued a new form of catalogue that not only documented artists’ work, but also contextualized it from multidisciplinary perspectives. These reader-style volumes—Let’s Entertain (2000), Painting at the Edge of the World (2001), and The Last Picture Show (2003), for example—reinforce the Walker’s commitment to publishing new scholarly research. In 2010, the Walker launched Walker Postscript (Walker P.S.), a print-on-demand imprint that presents short and focused texts that delve more deeply, or broadly, into the rich concepts that animate the institution’s diverse artistic programs.

Installation view of Diller+Scofidio’s Tourisms: suitCase Studies, 1991

Walker Art Center Archives

Installation view of the exhibition De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia, 1982

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 104, 1977

Julia Child’s Kitchen
Guest editors: Bill Stumpf, Nicholas Polites
Photo: Dick Swift

Installation view of the exhibition Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller, 1975

Walker Art Center Archives

Fax from Matthew Carter to Design Director Laurie Haycock Makela regarding his newly commissioned Walker typeface, 1995

Walker Art Center Archives

House-[e, es, ing] Architecture Studio in the exhibition The Home Show, 2000

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 126, 1984

A Serious Chair
Guest editors: William Houseman, Bill Stumpf

Idea House II under construction, 1947

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 76, 1970

Ephemera: Disposable Goods
Guest editor: Daniel Solomon; Guest designer: Barbara Stauffacher Solomon

Installation view of Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life, 2003

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 89, 1973

Sottsass Superstudio: Mindscapes

Fax from Matthew Carter to Design Director Laurie Haycock Makela regarding his newly commissioned Walker typeface, 1995

Walker Art Center Archives

Ideas for Better Living installation, Everyday Art Gallery, 1946

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 63, 1965

Clip-on & Plug-In Architecture
Guest editor: Peter Reyner Banham

Fax from Matthew Carter to Design Director Laurie Haycock Makela regarding his newly commissioned Walker typeface, 1995

Walker Art Center Archives

View of the exhibition Graphic Design in America, 1989

Walker Art Center Archives

left to right: Christine Binswanger, Jacques Herzog and Charles Stone of Herzog & de Meuron discuss architectural plans with Walker Director Kathy Halbreich, 2004

Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly No. 158, 1993

infrastructure design, digital displays, new typefaces, Levittown

Arata Isozaki and Eiko Ishioka’s Performing Space installation for Tokyo: Form and Spirit, 1986

Walker Art Center Archives

Frank Gehry in the exhibition The Architecture of Frank Gehry, 1986

Walker Art Center Archives

Installation view of the exhibition New Learning Spaces and Places, 1974

Walker Art Center Archives