To be a designer is to adhere to a precarious kind of label that never quite fits the nature of the work. The trend of “Designer as…” qualifiers tries to broaden the variety of other disciplines that contemporary design sidles up next to and gets comfortable with: “Designer as author.” “Designer as activist.” “Designer as academic.” “Designer as writer.”
“Designer as artist” has always seemed paradoxical, but Chicago has nurtured it for decades. The latest show at LVL3 Gallery, “CHGO DSGN: WHEREVER, ” a group show presented with CHGO DSGN, is the latest check on the city’s century-old lineage of a design-as-art pedigree that began with the “commercial artists” found in the back rooms of turn-of-the-century print shops. Once typographers, binders, illustrators and photographers began to identify more with an emerging, proto-creative class than the proletariat, design stepped out from behind the closed doors of commercial production and into the realm of personal expression. And Chicago has been at the center of the map since.
The assembly of neon, collage, sculpture, print, video, app and installation works from Chicago (and former Chicago) designers Yuna Baek, Adi Goodrich, James T. Green, Emily Haasch, Andy Hall, Clay Hickson, Cody Hudson, Ania Jaworska, Quinn Keaveney, Chad Kouri, Jason Pickleman, John Pobojewski, Alexa Viscius and Bryce Wilner is reminiscent of the velocity and variety of objects from last summer’s CHGO DSGN megashow, albeit with the chatter here having more of a focus on connectivity, rather than influence.
The show presents Chicago as a hotbed of designers who also happen to make art. It is a confident display of designers-as-artists in a community of creators; a community whose members may have international sights but still always find the “here” in the “wherever” they happen to be working. (Jessica Barrett Sattell)
Through August 16 at LVL3 Gallery, 1542 North Milwaukee, Third Floor.