Designing a pop-up exhibition on a college campus
This project tackles the design process behind creating a pop-up exhibition in Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). The process focused on creating an engaging experience at the intersection of physical and digital environments, with an end goal of encouraging guests to visit Pittsburgh’s museums.
Keith Haring is an American artist who was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1958. He briefly attended school as an art student at Kutztown University before transferring to the School of Visual Arts in New York. While in the city, Haring began gaining notoriety through the chalk drawings he did on boards painted black in preparation for the next advertisement. After being recognized by the public eye, Haring’s work began to break into the gallery scene. However, when it came to the public’s access to his work, he stuck to his roots. While creating pieces for art collectors and close friends alike, Haring launched the “Pop Shop”: a small store in New York City where he sold his work as prints and on clothing at affordable prices.
Haring’s work explored the themes of love, life, death, sexuality, and the surreal and he continued to produce pieces until his death in 1990. Haring died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31.
In the initial stages of creating a small gallery space that displays and celebrates the life and work of Keith Haring, I took to Pinterest, design blogs, and Haring’s journal entries in search of a starting point. Prior to taking this dive, I felt most familiar with his works as standalone icons without really knowing the story behind them. The exploration into his work felt like a personal journey, as Keith Haring grew up relatively close to my own home town and we shared similar interests in our youth. I am interested in using this exhibit as an opportunity to immerse visitors in an experience which gives a taste of his origin story.
Keith Haring’s early public works in the New York subway system are vital to understanding what drove his impulsive need to create. Currently, I am thinking about an entrance to the exhibit which makes the visitor feel like they have just stepped off of a subway car and encountered a freshly chalked Haring drawing in the wild. The exhibit would gradually shift chronologically into his later work and briefly connect to the larger themes in his body of work.
Implementing technology into the exhibit to encourage playful interaction will allow for guests to personally connect to Haring’s work. One of the ideas I am currently entertaining is some sort of body mapping system, represented by the top right image in my mood board, which could camouflage the guest into a wall reminiscent of Haring’s drawings on entire interiors, seen below.
Moving forward in this process, I studied the space the exhibit would inhabit, the Miller Institute for Contemporary Art (Miller ICA). After taking measurements and notes of the atmosphere, I took to creating a floor plan and a series of elevations to begin visualizing the affordances of the space.
Using the floorplan I created as a template, I began conceiving ideas for how the space might function in the context of a Keith Haring pop-up show.
Stepping into the gallery brings visitors onto a platform of the subway, where they are met with the early chalk work of Keith Haring. The space feels lively and visitors hear the muted sounds of trains and people rushing by. One of the drawings is only half finished — Haring was just there, having just fled the scene out of fear of being caught by onlookers.
Turning to the left visitors pass through a small area dedicated to a brief biography on Keith Haring. As they move through the exhibit, time progresses and visitors get a condensed taste Haring’s career. The next room contains the elephant sculpture seen in the Andy Warhol Museum. Surrounding it are some of Keith’s larger paintings.
The next space contains some of Haring’s welded statues, which were designed to be installed in public places. The room has a playful atmosphere, and in the corner an interactive exhibit is nested. Visitors are invited to move around the designated space, and watch as Haring’s figures “dance” to the motions of their onlookers.
The exhibit is concludes with a small area dedicated to a brief reflection on the exhibit and Keith Haring’s life. Additionally, information is provided the Andy Warhol Museum, where interested visitors can find work by or related to Keith Haring.
The floorplan and parti diagram were redesigned to create a more dynamic use of space that speaks cohesively more towards the works of Keith Haring.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Creating a scale model of the Miller ICA allowed for a working model to be dedicated to the understanding of space
The gallery plans were modeled in SketchUp as seen below. Experiential views were taken from SketchUp and refined in Photoshop.
Although the experience was designed by myself, I pulled inspiration from preexisting exhibits and works of art. Obviously, the exhibit was heavily influenced by the work of Keith Haring. Aside from incorporating his work directly through paintings and icons, I worked to include environmental qualities that speak more as a reference to his works.
Earlier in this Medium post I included a picture of a nude Keith Haring covered in thick linework that camoflauges him in with his surroundings. The original idea was to create an interactive scene where (clothed) guests would be able to recreate a similar scene. This original idea was inspired by the red couch in the lobby of The Andy Warhol Museum, where visitors may pose in a replica of a velvet couch that Warhol owned, situated right in front of a lifesized print of Warhol lounging in the original.
Ultimately, the original idea for this interactive camoflauge scene was refined to the current interaction in an effort to encourage visitors to create something that is much more open ended, yet still in the spirit of Haring. However, I chose to include the linework on the ground of this area because it is effective in denoting a stage for dynamic playful interaction.
This project pushed me to develop skills needed to create a highly specific experience in a small space. Each wall needed to be carefully dimensioned and placed in order to create a smooth and meaningful experience for guests. This is in stark contrast from the last project, which revolved around designing a modern mobile app which appropriately augments the prospective student tour at Carnegie Mellon. In this prior endeavor, a broader experience is being created for a large indoor and outdoor environment.
Each of these processes comes with challenges unique to their scale of thinking, as well as mutual overlap between the two. These frameworks are important to note in creating a larger web of understanding for the interconnectedness of environments, and a fundamental grasp of both is necessary for truly effective environment design.