Named European Cultural Capital in 2013, the southern French port city of Marseille has long been a crossroads for arts and cultures from the East and West, Africa and Europe. So it was a fitting locale for the traveling exhibition of SVA subway posters, “Underground Images,” which was on view this month as part of a weeklong exploration of ethics in design and artistic influence on a global scale.
Entitled “New York – Sarajevo – Marseille: Activism in Poster Design,” the project was hosted by the Villa Méditeranée, a new cultural center on Marseille’s waterfront dedicated to dialogue among Mediterranean peoples. The program drew artists, designers, students and design aficionados from around France as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Poland and the United States.
“Applying one’s talent in the service of people’s profound diversity and common humanity is, for the designer, an act of overcoming differences and promoting mutual understanding, and expression of memory, hope and peace,” explains François Caspar, the project’s lead organizer and president of the Alliance française des designers (France’s premiere professional association for design), in the written introduction to the show.
SVA’s subway campaign was launched by the late Silas H. Rhodes shortly after he founded the College. In his welcome at the opening reception, SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes, creative director for the posters since 2007 and curator of the “Underground Images” exhibition, observed of the College’s growth in the ensuing years, that “neither my father, nor anyone else, could have envisioned what we have become.” He went on to say, “The subway posters advertise our offerings, but [for New York’s commuters] they are also a daily reminder of the importance art plays in all our lives.” Rhodes was joined in welcoming visitors to the exhibition by Marianne Cat, design director at la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie Marseille (Marseille’s Chamber of Commerce); Bosnian-born designer Cedomir Kostovic; and Caspar.
Alongside the SVA subway posters, which were presented as a celebration of creativity and individual expression in a context normally reserved for commerce, was a parallel exhibition of 200+ posters that were assembled by American and Bosnian schools in an initiative entitled “Sarajevo 100,” which considered the city’s complicated history from the outbreak of World War I through the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and beyond.
“Underground Images” and “Sarajevo 100″ provided the backdrop for a two-day program of lectures by designers from France and abroad, and a screening of Wendy Keys’ acclaimed 2008 documentary about the legendary designer and SVA acting chairman Milton Glaser, To Inform and Delight. SVA Director of Communication Michael Grant gave a presentation on the College’s innovative programs and renowned faculty and alumni; SVA Galleries Director Francis Di Tommaso spoke about the history and context of the subway posters; and Mirko Ilic, a faculty member in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department whose SVA subway poster “SVA: See the Possibilities” was on view, talked about his work and shared highlights from Design of Dissent, the 2005 book and exhibition he produced with Glaser. The exhibition also marked the debut of Ilic’s new poster, which pays tribute to the collective talent of the artists who created the previous 58 posters on view in “Underground Images.”
In addition to l’Alliance française des designers, SVA’s partners on the project in Marseille included la Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie Marseille and la Villa Méditerranée. Featuring 132 international graphic designers from 37 countries and 90 graphic designers from Sarajevo, “Sarajevo 100” was initiated by the Association of Applied Arts Artists and Designers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Gallery Collegium Artisticum, the Sarajevo Academy of Fine Arts and the Department of Art and Design of the Missouri State University-Springfield.
Images from top down: Villa Méditeranée; guests at the opening reception; Francis Di Tommaso and Mirko Ilic; Di Tommaso’s presentation, photo Carla Di Tommaso; François Caspar, Marianne Cat, Anthony P. Rhodes and Cedomir Kostovic at the opening reception for “New York – Sarajevo – Marseille: Activism in Poster Design.”