NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 42


Preserve, Activate Graphic Design: In French Institutions

Vanina Pinter

Near the end of the 19th century, as Parisians discovered the colorful pleasures of lithographed posters covering their city walls, Octave Uzanne, a writer, publisher, and journalist, observed the social phenomenon "affichomanie" (postermania)1. Posters were actively sought after from the beginning of their history; they immediately attracted collectors. In 2017, there were countless “mémoires2” of DNSEP (documents written by graphic designers who question the notion of collection). Their research reflects contemporary and timeless concerns including enhancing, preserving, and collecting documentation. The studies are conducted based on two differing points of view: one on the compulsive act of gathering graphic objects (often by graphic designers themselves), and the other on a rather bitter conclusion that graphic design archives in French institutions are considered disparate, incomplete (mainly printed), and fragile.

However, in the past ten years, it seems that a small group of people have discovered a way to address these issues. From the French point of view, the more institutions that offer graphic design studies, the more complex these situations become3. From an international point of view, the French institutional system is varied, responds to different intentions, and shows initiative. Five structures are at the forefront. In this article, the ways in which these structures contribute to graphic design, not only through exhibitions, but also through orders, will be emphasized. Slightly caricaturing the way Uzanne did can illuminate the need for “graphicomania”(create ordered surfaces that become immediately collectable objects) in France.

Only for Graphic Design 
Since 1990, Le Mois du Graphisme (Graphic Arts Month) has initiated exhibitions in Echirolles (the suburbs of Grenoble)4. Graphic designers who have proved themselves as curators and investigators in this effort (such as Michel Bouvet and Alain Le Quernec) are constantly in search of graphic happenings around the world. Since 2016, Le Mois du Graphisme has had a permanent center with a commitment to a local, educational, and associative network. Published catalogs (ranging a few pages to large compilations) are documentary resources, richly illustrated and didactic. 
Also created in 1990, the graphic arts festival of Chaumont stands out through its poster competition and has gained international attention. 2016 was a pivotal year for Chaumont. New architectural builds by Moatti-Riviere, gave it a concrete envelope and long-awaited charisma. Named Le Signe, this exhibition space is meant to valorize the public utility of graphic design. The massive collection of 50,000 posters, ranging from the legacy of Gustave Debailly to more contemporaries works, continues to grow thanks to its competitions. Due to the work of triumvirate Pierre Bernard, Alex Jordan, and Vincent Perrottet, and due to new residencies, workshops, and scenography, Chaumont has become a coveted place of creation and order for graphic designers. These original productions, like many identity posters of the festival, turn out to be reflexive studies.
Under the direction of current Director, Eric Aubert, Basel designer, Ludovic Balland conceived a remarkable catalog of the illustrated poster collection of La Belle Époque. This brings attention to conservation and thinking through practice. The editorial manager, led by Etienne Hervy (2010–2015), also explored the possibilities of catalogs (Edition 2011 by Abäke, Edition 2013 by Laurent Fétis and Sarah Martinon). On another scale, continual workshops and publications have awakened young audiences to graphic design. Research that is theoretical, historic, or intuitive allows this collection to be part of a revitalized contemporary creation.

Paris, The Present and the Past
In Paris, two institutions are improving their relationship with design. The National Library of France (BNF) is specialized in conservation methods (which it deploys through the preservation of posters5) and recently, they have also taken care of books by graphic designers6.Through their sophisticated and up-to-date online catalog, it is clear which posters and books created by graphic designers are accessible. The graphic designer as an actor in book design has recently been added to the database of the notice of the book. This is a key approach and recognition. The BNF designates this attention to graphic design at regular exhibitions7
Created in 1978, Les Arts Décoratifs offers regular exhibitions at 107 Rue de Rivoli in Paris since 1999. Without a doubt, the museum reflects the French uneasiness with the strained relationship between advertising and graphic design. Regarding graphic design, the exhibitions are divided into different categories. The first is related to monographic lighting (Antoine and Manuel, 2009, and Philippe Apeloig, 2014). They also showcase rare, contemporary creations as well as recto verso and works by French designers Christophe Jacquet, Mathias Schweizer, Fanette Mellier, Vier5, Helmo, Pierre Vanni, Jocelyn Cottencin, and Akatre to evoke original scenography. The design of their catalog and the scenography were conceived by the studio Office abc, who was inspired by the conceptual art styles of La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave film) and Surrealism.

Graphisme en France
The CNAP (National Center of Plastic Arts) imposed itself on the French scene these last ten years, depositing “graphisme en France8” as a sort of label. Since 2014, this designation has centralized a digital platform that aims to inform of all graphic design facts and conferences to the French territory9. Since 2010, CNAP integrates graphic design into its public collections through a precise policy of acquisition where works are purchased from graphic designers after examination and acceptance before a commission. The acquisitions are as an order of bundle (i.e. the identity for the Amandiers theater by the studio ABM). The commission favors value and quality of the order. It is not only the final work, but the entire design process that is acquired. The collaboration of Philippe Millot and the CentPages publishing house belongs to the public collection through more than 300 pieces ranging from sketches to books including the work and research of Étienne Robial for the channel Canal +, the layout originally designed by Peter Knapp, artistic direction of Elle magazine (1960–1970), and the script, roughs, 3D preparatory drawings of H5’s short film Logorama.
These pieces are preserved as works of art in national public collections and are prepared to circulate at exhibitions. These ensembles constitute a field of research for students and academics. Since its creation in 1982 and when Grapus changed its logo for the first time to an expressive emblem, the CNAP has maintained a conscious relationship with graphic design. After this, the studio M/M Paris signed a new identity with a typographic "tie."
Remarkably, CNAP encourages graphic design directly. Since 2008, it entrusts its annual report to a young graphic designers’ studio (Elise Gay and Kevin Donnot, The Shelf Company, graphic designers, Superscript ...)10 Recently, in partnership with the Imprimerie Nationale, CNAP launched a call for applications for an original typeface. In 2014, Infinite11 (designed by the young typographer, Sandrine Nugue) won the call for applications. Her characters were used quickly on multiple medias. Another order was a small object with an estimable ambition. In 2015, Fanette Mellier designed a pedagogical kit for middle school students to discover graphic design through five posters and five brochures on the topics of typography, color, data visualization, image, and composition. Beyond an informative website, Graphisme en France was and remains an annual printed publication. The publication runs articles written by talented young graphic designers such as Jean-Marc Ballée (2001), Frédéric Teschner (2005), and Loran Stosskopf (2007). Véronique Marrier replaced its former director, Marsha Emanuel, in 2008. The new head of graphic design at CNAP intensified the theoretical value of the document and transformed it into a free web download (since 2014 in English)12. These thematic publications (art direction, logotypes, etc.) gather unpublished texts commissioned to critics and historians of the profession.
The wide circulation of the printed magazine aims to intrigue the uninitiated to graphics and bring forward the necessity of a conscious order. By multiplying the initiatives, the CNAP allowed the young generation to sign subtle and singular productions. The institution submits itself to the rigor of being an attentive commissioner13. What is remarkable, through this succession, is that institutions not only desire to preserve, but also to activate the “graphic designer as an actor” through conservation and expansion within a contemporary society.

1Word invented in 1891.
2In school of fine art, students (in 5e year) must write an "mémoire" before to produce their project.
3CF Catherine de Smet, Jeu de piste. Archives et collections. In Pour une critique du design graphique ; Dix-huit essais, Éditions B42, 2012, p.48-53. And the study of Caroll Maréchall :
4Since that time on the initiative and direction of Diego Zaccaria.
5Under the direction of Anne-Marie Sauvage, chief curator at the Department of Prints and Photography
6Sandrine Maillet Chief Librarian at the Rare Books Reserve.
7The Last one in 2013
8In 2014, the identity by the studio Building Paris.
13Another detail for the publications aids that concern all fields (contemporary art, art ...), the proposals must mention the graphic designer.

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review

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