If you’re anything like me, art is confusing. It seems to display some specific idea that should be obvious, hidden only to those too uninspired to see it. As I wandered through the UMMA looking for the Paul Rand exhibit, looking conspicuously un-artsy in my Ugg boots, I came across so many pieces that I was unable to understand. There was the marble sphere with circular concavities carved into it (representing giving birth, the sign told me), a giant monochrome canvas with a single stripe of other colors (I think this one was called “Untitled”), an enormous painted fabric sheet haphazardly hung on the wall (something to do with feminism in 1960s art). By the time I got to the exhibit I’d come to see, I was more than a little intimidated by everything around me that I couldn’t really understand.
Once I made my way over to the Rand exhibit, I began to feel less out of place. The showcase featured some of his design work from the 1930s to the 90s, including designs for various corporations like IBM and NeXT, as well as book covers and unrelated pieces. This art is accessible to anyone, appealing only to the eye’s love for simplicity and clean lines.
Rand’s work is characterized by his fondness for bold colors and shapes, not shying away from either clashing hues nor unbalanced compositions. While the restrictions of working in two dimensions tempts many artists to strive for some three-dimensional elements, Rand instead embraces his chosen mediums, not even adding any shading. His penchant for keeping his work strictly graphic is what makes his style so distinguishable; he lived without adhering to the classical rules of art.
Beyond the finished and published pieces, the exhibit also included pages of doodles and work that has remained largely unknown. These are my favorite parts to a collection; it shows the personality and creativity of an artist beyond what the public’s impression of them is. Most showcased work of late artists is distorted by a popularity contest put on by the viewers; we see only the public piece of an artist, missing out on the earlier works, or half-finished pieces, or the more experimental phases in their life. Complete artist profiles like this exhibit are necessary for better understanding their procession through artistic expression and exploration.
The only additional thing I would have liked in the exhibit is a bit more of a biography, maybe a picture of Rand drawing at his desk, even earlier doodles, something saved from his childhood. This would add to the personal feeling of the exhibit. Overall, though, it was put together well, and works as a fine addition to the UMMA.
For information on current and future UMMA exhibits, check out www.umma.umich.edu/exhibitions.