Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Raise the Bar

Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Raise the Bar

Article excerpt

Cultural design sometimes patronises audiences in the relentless pursuit of new customers. Not so with these uncompromising posters for the Theatre Nanterre-Amandiers in Paris.

Visual communication for the cultural sector is, in the opinion of many designers, the last best hope for expressive and radical graphic design before it is finally submerged in a sea of anodyne branding and corporate sterility. And yet, as was pointed out in these pages by Nick Bell ('The Steamroller of Branding', Eye 53), the cultural sector is not always the 'promised land5. Bell wrote: 'Since the 1980s, art galleries and museums have chosen to employ the same methods of per suasion that business uses, because they see themselves more as businesses. In the grip of a new spirit of openness, they believe their customers need to be lured to look at art with a mode of address they understand from spending time in the supermarket - an approach that can easily become patronising.'

Not so the Theatre Nanterre-Amandiers. Under its director, Jean-Louis Martinelli (described by Pascal Bejean - one of the designers of the theatre's promotional material - as someone 'imbued with the spirit of 1968'), this small venue, half an hour from the centre of Paris, offers a bold repertoire of broadly leftist theatre that deals with geopolitics, Africa and France's colonial past.

In 2002, a competition was organised to find a design team to give the theatre a 'new spotlighf. The contest was won by the Parisian design group Labomatic (Pascal Bejean, Frederic Bortolotti and Nicolas Ledoux). Labomatic were prominent members of the new wave of 1990s French designers. Their work, well known and greatly admired in France, showed the influence of the radical developments that had taken place in America during the 1980s and 90s. The spirit of Cranbrook - and of Rudy Vanderlans' Emigre - was evident in the group's early work for French cultural institutions and art galleries, and in the posters and printed material they did for Nanterre-Amandiers.

Labomatic disbanded in 2009, and Bejean and Ledoux broke away to work as a duo under their own names. They were subsequently joined by Olivier Korner, and together they have carried on the task of designing the print campaigns for Nanterre-Amandiers.

Posters are central to the theatre's efforts to attract audiences. Produced for display on the Paris Metro, these posters make no attempt to depict individual plays. …

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