Thursday, February 7, 2008
Mexic-Arte was founded in 1984 and since then it has showcased traditional and contemporary artists from the United States, Mexico, and Latin America. Its mission is to continue to bring tribute to established artists and feature the work of new talent. The museum’s outreach programs educate and enrich the public about Mexican and Latin American Culture and Art. Mexic-Arte is one of the few Mexican Art Museums in Texas. Its location in downtown Austin on Congress Street makes it accessible and visible to visitors. As a non-profit organization, it also offers educational workshops and classes for young children. This is a great opportunity for children to expand their creativity and gain exposure to different artists. This allows children to be aware of other cultures and traditions. Mexic-Arte shows great dedication and appreciation for Mexican art and the importance of representing Mexican Culture in the United States.
For most artists, history and culture is very much prominent in their work. The design of Mexic-Arte should illustrate and become a preview of the museum and what it displays. Much like an artist represents his or her aesthetic and style in his or her work, the sign should be representative of Mexic-Arte. When I first saw the sign I was immediately drawn to the content, not necessarily how it was represented. The typeface as well as the composition is very linear and blocky. The name Mexic-Arte, originally Galería México, is informative and illustrates the fundamental nature of the museum. The original name was too general, unoriginal, and with little commercial appeal. Mexic-Arte is a shorter and more direct name that combines the words Mexica and arte. Mexica was an indigenous culture of the Valley of México during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The blocked segmentation of the sign emphasizes the combination of words but it is not effective because the words are too confined. The letters are evenly spaced on each row but then the letters connect with the bars on the top and bottom. I disagree with the vertical lines connecting to all the letterforms. It visually it creates tension and disorder. The kerning is done well on each row of the sign but that does not help the organization.
I chose to work with this sign in order to experiment with the typeface, letter spacing, and layout. First, I turned the text into Helvetica and simply laid it out vertically with only capitalizing the M and A in Mexic-Arte. I thought this was a simple solution to distinguish between the two combined words. I placed museum in a smaller font size directly below Arte and aligned it on both sides to emphasize that it is an art museum. My experimentation with Helvetica gave a clean and sophisticated look but it did not add character or culture to the words. My second attempt to redesign the sign was to separate both Mexic and Arte in rows as it was in the original. I used a san serif font called Lithos Pro so that it could reference the original font but keep sufficient spacing in between the lines. Lithos Pro Regular font was released in 2000 and was inspired by ancient Greek inscriptions and it consists of linear and geometric letterforms. I was drawn to this typeface because of its ancient and culture rich undertones that mimicked the connection to Mesoamerican civilizations that I felt from the logo. Finally, by keeping the text right aligned, it adds the organization that was needed in the original sign.
As guests walk through the large wooden doors of the art museum they are directed to the information desk, located in the art store. Although small, the store is full of Mexican Folk Art, pottery, carved wooden animals, and jewelry. Viewers first get a glimpse of older more traditional decorative pieces of art and then continue on to see more recent and modern day art. The gallery space is composed of two main rooms that are structured to give the visitor a full view of the exhibit. Guests can easily maneuver through the simple floor plan. The gallery space is small and humble, and the logo does not seem to fit its modesty.
After an intensive search for the details of the design and typeface of the Mexic-arte logo, I was finally able to contact and meet with the designer, Tony Romano. Questions about the concept, typeface, and formal decisions of the sign arose in my meeting with him. As an artist, designer and local supporter of the Arts in Austin he would frequently visit Mexico-Arte. At the time, almost 15 years ago, the museum did not have a set logo but simply written text. Tony Romano offered to design a logo for them and the concept was left entirely to him. He looked through some books in the Museum library and was inspired by a particular late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Mexican print artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada. He admitted not doing enough research and focusing just on the formal aspects of the letter type. He took one of Posada’s typefaces and modified it to formally fit the composition of the logo. He explained the decision behind the square shape logo and how it is typically more convenient to use a square form when shrinking and expanding a logo. He drew inspiration from the blocky papel picado Mexican decorations and decided to mimic the stencil quality by separating the text and connecting it to the division bars. He initially wanted the edges of the sign more rough looking, but the budget could not accommodate it.
Since the museum was not as well established back then, a logo was not a priority. As a result, this logo depended on practical and financial decisions. Mexic-Arte seems to be a Mesoamerican art museum, but the chic design contradicts its appearance. The logo lacks research, a more in depth study of Mexican culture without just looking at images that are commonly associated with the culture and show one aspect of its traditions. It also lacks representation, an image that speaks about the museum that is cohesive rather than contradictory. Design decisions made according to a budget can ultimately affect its communication. This was the case for Mexic-Arte.