An exhibit where you can encounter the amiable tiger Hodori, the official mascot of the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, and Hwayo, a fancy version of distilled soju, as works of art. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Korea–Japan relations, “Graphic Symphonia” offers a chance to critically analyze mediums that we come into contact with in everyday life under the perspective of graphic design. Here, you can judge a Korean mystery novel by its cover and get away with it. In fact, this type of shallow approach is recommended, as the majority of the books and magazines on view have their pages closed shut.
The exhibit opens with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics poster, which results in a streamlined timeline of posters and books by first generation designers, both Korean and Japanese. As the large posters are framed and hung high on the walls, it’s difficult at times to make out the details, especially when the glass catches reflections of the books below. On the other hand, it’s a treat to see Tree with Deep Roots (shares the same title with the Korean novel and drama series), the first magazine in Korea to have an art director as a member of the editorial team. Yellowed with age, but laid out with slender and elongated Korean characters, the cover page makes the defined hangul characters pop with pronounced elegance. As my eyes dive for the first issue published in 1976, I reach out to turn the pages of the magazine, but the guards sing out “no touching” in a disharmonious unison. The magazine was discontinued long ago and is a rare find, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that we’re not allowed to flip through them. That also goes for the Japanese design magazine IDEA, as it’s all about filling its pages with art—and the spread that it was opened to wasn’t exactly appealing. Installed on low, wide pedestals, the publications appear as if they’re aligned on an invisible grid, just as they should be. But when you concentrate on individual favorites, it doesn’t take much time to notice that the spaces between each publication is irregular. How could MMCA disregard the rule for knolling in a graphic design exhibition? It’s all a real buzz killer only until I realize that Propositions, designed by Workroom Press (each cover simplified to showcase three elements: the novelist’s name, title and colorful cover) are on view in the midst of work by young and studio-based designers in Korea. It’s a thoughtful gesture to shower this collection with quality museum lighting that could otherwise be brushed past as design commodities at Åland. And hearing Sticky Lab Monster’s jolly jingle and animation play next to the well-respected art director of MUJI is equally thoughtful. It’s a lot more meaningful than the exhibition poster that you can take home for free, but Kenya Hara’s approval is a plus.