We're temporarily staying near to the intriguingly-named Ultimo inner-city suburb of Sydney, just in time to catch the last few days of an excellent little exhibition entitled: +&-=X 20 years of typo-graphics from the Tokyo Type Directors Club. The show's over now, but I managed to take some quick photos. Running at the University of Technology Sydney's tiny UTS:Gallery, it was curated by John Warwicker, one of the founders of UK design collective Tomato. (Warwicker is now living in Melbourne, I note, where the show started at Monash University. I also note that Warwicker quietly designed one of my favourite Australian magazines, The Monthly.)
"Since 1990, the Tokyo Type Directors Club has staged an annual international design competition to celebrate the visual expression of letters. Along with international judges, fifteen of Japan's leading typographers and graphic designers assess the best work. The award's freshness and vitality has constantly challenged what is thought of as typography and type design."
Warwicker is one of these international judges involved in Tokyo Type Directors Club, so has been well-placed to take a long view of the work emerging from this prestigious award. And sure enough, it's fantastic work. It's mainly poster-based, and seemingly well beyond straightforward typography - that phrase "the visual expression of letters" captures the sensibility perfectly. There are a few typefaces, but far more art, illustration, advertising, a few books, some sharp information design in the form of a wayfinding system, a few objects and so on. Many of the Japanese posters are flavoured with that distinctive vivid lyricism, rendered abstract through my lack of understanding of the language. As such, they have to be appreciated purely in terms of their graphical form, texture, colour. Many of them are startlingly lovely. (Sadly, the exhibition didn't easily list the designers, so I can't tell you who they are. Apologies.) Even the more obviously mainstream commercial work has a graceful elegance about it. In formal contrast, although also appealing, are the posters by the non-Japanese designers. These are more immediate, familiar, easier to decode, identify. Angus Hyland's charmingly direct 'This is a poster' - it's certainly not a pipe - stands out, through its clarity and wit. Likewise Alexander Gelman's poster. See also London's Kerning. But many other works also catch the eye and tweak the synapses.
For a small space, there was a lot of work, but it didn't feel over-crowded. The exhibition design was appealingly spartan, with most posters simply clipped on the wall, though - as ever - I could have done with a little more context. At least a simple guide to the designers, mapped to their work perhaps. So the photos I took (see full set) actually give you a sense of moving through the exhibition as I did, pausing over some of the items, hugely enjoying drifting through the images but unable to delve much deeper beyond that. Also, some of the more beautiful items couldn't really be captured digitally, such as this below, comprising gold printed over black but entombed within a case and suffering the reflection of the overhead lights. It was still possible to see how lovely it was.
A small good thing, this exhibition. Discreet, unpretentious, concise but laced with technique and ideas. It may re-assemble and travel again, so keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, I've compiled a full set of quick photographs I took, over at Flickr.