Escher x Nendo Exhibition Review – Part 2

This is the second part of the article about Escher x Nendo exhibition. Part 1 is here!

Escher x Nendo Exhibition held at NGV had been the one that I was longing to go and see since it was announced. M. C. Escher and Nendo are two of my favourite artists/designers, and the qualities of optical illusions and the conceptual intricacy behind the simplistic selection of mediums have influenced my perspectives on art/design (and love of geometry!) since I was in the primary school.

This article is about the exhibition design by the Japanese design studio called Nendo. I was in year 9 (2013) when I heard about Nendo for the first time. Since then, my dream is to work for Oki Sato at Nendo and become a designer like him whose design can make users think and feel, and ultimately change their view on the social and cultural norm. So I was super excited to see this exhibition curated by Nendo.

Exhibition design is more than just hanging artworks on the wall; as the purpose of a public gallery is to educate the public, designing an exhibition is about the ‘journey’ for visitors to learn about particular artist/s, their artworks, or even the cultural, social, historical, religious or/and political contexts. The exhibition design is the extension of the world expressed through artworks that encourage visitors to immerse themselves.

Commonly, an exhibition is structured by year (early works to later (more well-known, mature works) or/and by theme (concepts, ideas, locations, subject matter, etc.), and each section of the exhibition is designed to reflect groups of artworks. I found that Escher x Nendo exhibition is an excellent example to understand how the exhibition design can respond to the artworks displayed, as Nendo’s design intent is explained in each room.

Nendo took a form of a gable house as a motif that appears throughout the exhibition. Although it is employed through different graphical and physical representations (solid – line – void – shape – figure-ground – surface – tone – pattern – black and white, etc.), visitors are able to identify a sense of consistency and the relationship with Escher’s works. For example, Escher’s interest in light and shadow is responded with the linework of the house motif formed by the light & shadow projected onto the wall (this is something I would like you to see in real life!! Don’t want to spoil too much…). Not only will you enjoy the atmosphere, but also by how those feature structures are designed and constructed thoughtfully.

The selection of the tones of greyscale directly makes reference to Escher’s artworks and sets the sophisticated atmosphere. Rather than using colours, the lighting design, especially directional lights, aims to create a rich monochromatic tonal variation that gives a sense of spatial volume and the dramatic effect.

Regarding the spatial progression through the exhibition, I enjoyed the compression and the expansion of the space by ceiling heights, emphasising the change of theme and the subject matters Escher had gone through. Furthermore, the structures that invite visitors to experience are playful and almost like a part of a theme park where you would take pictures as a memory of the visit. For example, the grid of transforming houses in the open, spacious room is not only an ideal place for visitors to take photogenic images for social media, but also giving freedom to how they would walk around and appreciate Escher’s artworks scattered about in the space. Visitors can walk the corridor-like strips, or through the gable house tunnels, suggesting a new way of seeing artworks in the gallery space where conventionally people would walk alongside the walls.

From the beginning till the end of the exhibition, I couldn’t stop thinking “WOW so clever and interesting”, because the exhibition design respected and amplified Escher’s artistic intentions consistently in unique exhibition design. It’s the exhibition that I will go back and spend another day to look more closely, especially to enjoy the room of suspended house motifs and the models at the end of the exhibition that communicate the key concepts behind the exhibition design concisely…! I highly recommend visiting the exhibition if you haven’t seen it yet.

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