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Rick Poynor: We need more galleries

On the rare occasions that an exhibition of graphic design appears, it’s a safe bet that one complaint will always be heard. Graphic design, someone will say, just doesn’t work in a gallery. It isn’t art and it can’t possibly be properly understood out of context. It only has meaning out in the world in the places where it was intended to communicate. Curiously, the people making this criticism will usually be graphic designers.

The quotation is from an article by Rick Poynor, appeared in Print magazine two years ago. Poynor is a design critic and writer, the founding editor of Eye magazine, and the curator of retrospective exhibitions such as Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties (2005) and Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design (2010). Moved by a visit he made to a private gallery in Melbourne specialising in exhibitions at the convergence of art and design, The Narrows, in this article Poynor reflects on the poor number of galleries that have an interest in exhibiting graphic design and graphic communication. Beside The Narrows, he mentions Galerie Anatome in Paris and the Kemistry Gallery in London. He points out how it is the small galleries – rather than the big museums, which are usually focused on big overviews – that can be the place for «the small-scale, immediate, topical responses» which are «needed to foster the sense of a thriving discursive culture, a community sharing a common aim, a vibrant and active scene». This is certainly an interesting point that we must consider, and it is important to call, how Poynor does, for more galleries to exhibit graphic design. However, it would also be interesting to find out if and how the “immediate response” and the “discursive culture” of the graphic design community that constitutes the public of such galleries, actually enter into the wider discourse and criticism of design and visual culture, and become relevant for it.

Read online the full article by Poynor at