Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Tibor Kalman Library

The MFA Studio is hosting an open house this afternoon for prospective students interested in applying to the program. I volunteered to help out because the experience last year was invaluable in choosing a school. I obviously believe strongly in SVA's program, but the hospitality and reception they roll out for these events is unmatched by any of the other Top 10 or NY-area design programs.

Last week, (British) Steve and I got an e-mail from Esther, the department coordinator, asking us to create the signage for the event. The project required us to create several directional way-finding signs and title cards for past projects that are displayed on workstations around the studio. In addition to that, Esther mentioned a long-term installation that the co-chairs wanted for the new library. Over the summer, some studio space was cordoned off to construct the Tibor Kalman Library, a dedicated room for design and visual reference books. The new library space meant new walls, which also means there is a big old patch of boring, white plaster in the front of the studio, begging for someone to spruce it up. Esther asked us to create some temporary signage for the library wall in time for the open house, with the understanding that we'd do something more extensive over the next few weeks.

Tibor Kalman Library Wall

Minutes later, Steve (one of the dept. co-chairs) called (British) Steve and I into his office for a meeting. The three Steves! He wanted to talk about the wall project, which to him, was far more critical than the event signs. He wanted it done by the open House. Steve and I just smiled, nodded and quietly panicked.

The following Monday, Steve and I sat down to bang out some ideas for the installation. I have little to no experience with collaborative design, a fact I mentioned in my earlier magazine post, so there was some reluctance on my part from the beginning. Steve and I get on like a house on fire, but when you're in a program like this, with so many people asking you to come up with great ideas at every turn, you can feel a little hard-pressed in the beginning to devise a plan you actually want to execute.

Tibor Kalman Library Wall

After scribbling some "serious" ideas on a pad, we lost our way and began joking about what we'd actually like to see on the wall. We started to build on a particularly rich concept, just adding more and more onto the pile and laughing about how mad the whole thing would be if that's the direction we went in. It was as easy a bit of collaboration as I could have hoped for and I can honestly say that the finished concept was both of our ideas. I'm unsure of where Steve's ideas stop and mine begin. After spending so much time on sketches and ideas and falling in love with the concept (a real problem when you're designing anything), we decided to pitch the ridiculous one to (co-chair) Steve. He was in Spain, so sent him the following e-mail, titled Tibor Library Ideas (TRIPLE AWESOME TO THE EXTREME):
Hey Steve-

This is Steven and Steve and this e-mail already sounds like an Abbott and Costello routine. We've attached a couple of mock-ups for an idea that we're pretty excited about. It is a bit involved, but a portion of it can be installed in advance of the Open House.

We'd like to transform the blank wall space in order to evoke a stately library of the sort that you might find in an old British manor. The walls would be covered in a muted victorian wallpaper and hung with old, gilded picture frames. Inside the frames, we would hang 17th and 18th century oil paintings of Dukes and Earls and regal Ladies, with their hunting dogs and powdered wigs and corsets. In place of their heads, we would insert the covers of monographs and books in the library, photoshopped to resemble the oil painting so that the overall effect was seamless. In the gap between the bookshelves, we'd like to stick this old wing back chair I've got, maybe draping it with a velvet smoking jacket, to make the illusion of a library complete.

On the right side of the column we would hang a large frame with "The Tibor Kalman Library" inset, accompanied by a modest framed portrait of Tibor below. This material could all be installed this week. Like I said, we've attached some jpgs to give you a better idea of what we're talking about, as well as a template for the signage that we're supposed to design for the Open House.

As an alternative, we we're thinking about creating an idea map of the library's contents. This would be a pretty straightforward web of the content inside, in black and white with more bold primary colors used to accent. We would once again reserve the naming information for the right side of the column.
The next afternoon, (co-chair) Steve was back from Spain, but most of the day passed without (British) Steve or I hearing a peep from him about the concept. At a quarter to five, he screamed for the two Steves to get into his office. (British) Steve and I exchanged nervous giggles and made our way across the studio. Perched on (co-chair) Steve's couch, he told us that he loved the idea and that we were free to do as we pleased. There would even be a bit of money to cover our material expenses.

Tibor Kalman Library Wall
Tibor Kalman Library Wall

Over the next week, (British) Steven, myself and two of our mates that we inducted into the cause, Areej and Nigel, made trip after trip to neighborhood thrift shops for ratty old picture frames with an ornate flourish. Steve and I went wallpaper shopping uptown and also picked up a few wall sconces at a nearby Home Depot, as well as some paint to give the frames an antique look. During one group shopping trip to an art supply store for our book class, I found a big bastard of a frame on a pile of discarded garbage. It was the perfect style and shape for the project, so back to the studio it went with us.

After class on Thursday night, (British) Steve, Areej, Nigel and myself waited for those folks sitting adjacent to the wall to clear out of the studio and began hanging the wallpaper. We started at a snail's pace since we had zero cumulative wallpaper experience, but after a few strips, we fell into a routine and were able to lock the whole thing down by two or three in the morning. In a short time, the pictures were framed and hung and we were done, barring a few bits of touch up work the following morning.

Tibor Kalman Library Wall
Tibor Kalman Library Wall
Tibor Kalman Library Wall

The following day, we got to the studio and filled in some wallpaper gaps that appeared once the lot dried on the wall. (Co-chair) Steven and Lita (the other co-chair) were already at school and seemed really pleased with the results. It definitely adds a strong visual element to an otherwise dull corner of the studio. Steve and I are still on the lookout for a couple more frames to house the portraits that we photoshopped but didn't get to use. Also, we need to find a chair that matches the wallpaper and work on the actual text sign for the right wall. When all of this is done, we plan on having each guest lecturer pose in the chair (with monocle and smoking jacket) and create a collection of bizarre portraits in front of our creation.

(British) Steve and I have already set our sights on another corner of the studio. There aren't many places in work, school or life where someone encourages you to do something really weird and gives you a bit of money to make the whole thing happen. I need to continually remind myself that I'm lucky to be in an environment where anything can happen as long as the idea behind it is golden.

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