Stewart Smith
Intersection Hero 2

“Intersection” UConn MFA exhibition catalog

Printed catalog for the University of Connecticut Master of Fine Arts 2003 final exhibition. Designed to stress the exhibition theme of “intersection” through a bespoke folding technique that literally binds the catalog content together.

The result is a fatally-conceptual booklet that navigates in two dimensions rather than one. From each full spread image a reader can navigate the bottom half of the catalog either to the left or right to reveal more work by the same artist whose work is featured in that full spread. The design of the bespoke fold and the layout were a collaborative effort of UConn’s Design Center.

Video demonstration of a reader navigating our bespoke folding design for the “Intersection” UConn MFA 2003 exhibition catalog.

Navigating the catalog

The stark, gallery-white front cover of the catalog features the colorful exhibition title of “INTERSECTION”, with the ‘R’ literally intersecting the right-edge of the cover with the remainder of the title mirrored underneath the initial letters. This title, and the entirety of the catalog is set in Tobias Frere-JonesInterstate typeface—a decision inspired by wordplay and association. Upon close inspection it is possible to see that within the letters of the title there are much smaller letters knocked out in the same blank white as the negative space. This is the interior body text of the catalog, overlayed and intersecting with the catalog cover and title.

Title page

Opening the catalog to its first page reveals a title page declaring the exhibition name, Intersection, followed by the subtitular “Master of Fine Arts 2003” and “University of Connecticut.” The four 2003 UConn MFA graduates are listed as Erin Anfinson, Diane Dwyer, Laura McEwan, and David William.

Title spread

Attempting to turn to the “next page” counter-intuitively navigates to the center spread. Here we again see the title, but in the same scale, placement, and color as the front cover. In addition to the large title glyphs, various new background color shapes reveal the entirety of that previously glimpsed knockout text, now spanning the entire spread.

Additionally the grid lines of the catalog’s page layout expose the visual patterns used to create the catalog’s composition. This is the intersection of the title, catalog text, color swatches, and the layout rules for assembling them.

Essay spread

From this center spread, rather than turning a page from right to left to advance “forward”, we turn the page from the bottom upward and arrive at the very interior of the catalog—a second and truer center spread. This navigation doubles the experienced size of the catalog, from rectangle to square, and uncovers the two spine staples that bind the booklet together. The left half of this centerfold square contains Graduate Coordinator, Professor Kathryn Myers’ welcome message. On the selection of the exhibition theme, she states:
Our MFA candidates have selected “Intersection” as the title of their thesis exhibition. This suggests that although their works are presented as distinctive pieces, they welcome the viewer to see how ideas and formal strategies often merge, overlap, and reflect each other.

This layout is mirrored on the right with Center for Visual Arts and Culture Director, Saul Ostrow’s “Through the cultural mirror” essay. He does his best.

Artist spreads

To continue through the catalog we now turn each square page from the top downward. This action advances us through full spreads of each MFA candidate’s work—beginning with Erin Anfinson, followed by Diane Dwyer, then Laura McEwan, and finally David William. (Turning down once more will return us to the title spread and a rectangular format.)

Crop of video demonstration; reader navigating our bespoke folding design for the “Intersection” UConn MFA 2003 exhibition catalog, focused on the artist spreads.

The real magic here is that from the full spread of artwork, we may turn the bottom half of the square from left to right to reveal the artist’s name and statement, the title and materials for the full spread artwork, and a smaller additional artwork. Turning the bottom half instead from right to left reveals two additional smaller artworks by this artist. This sub-navigation works for each MFA candidate’s section. That there is some real folding artistry.

Back matter

Turning down the final artist spread returns our square catalog to a rectangular format and we arrive again at the title center spread. From here we can turn from right to left and find a page of appreciation—which in addition to family, faculty, staff, and friends, also includes us Design Center folks. Turning once more in the same direction brings us to the back cover. This contains the relevant exhibition information, allowing the catalog to moonlight as a flyer of sorts.

Making of

Not content to merely pun around with fonts—choosing Interstate as our typeface for an exhibition catalog titled “Intersection”—we endeavored to go conceptually deeper by literally intersecting the work with itself through our elaborate and bespoke folding design. I recall that late night in Design Center; the lot of us assembled on the second floor excitedly white-boarding half-impossible diagrams and mangling sheet after sheet as we honed in on a solution. When we presented our design over the following days our professors must have thought we were a bit crazy. And yet we were green-lit to proceed with our overly complicated technique.

I recall attempting to carefully explain our intended design over the phone to a representative from our local print shop, Thames Printing, only to be scolded by a rather confused and frustrated employee. She chided me that the proper term for what I was describing was a straight-forward saddle stitch—something that I was awfully familiar with from years of zine production. When I insisted this wasn’t a saddle stitch job she doubled down, suggesting that I ought to switch majors and set my heart on a different career because I just wasn’t cut out for design. (Life is a divine comedy, after all.)

On a beautiful spring day several weeks later, a different and much kinder representative from Thames had swung by Design Center to share print proofs for our catalog. I proposed that rather than color proofing the sheets indoors under poorly calibrated incandescent bulbs, we ought to do it outside in actual daylight—on the roof! (The shingled rooftop was easily accessible from the hallway window.)

Inspecting our “Intersection” 2003 MFA final exhibition catalog in actual daylight on the rooftop of UConn’s old Design Center building. From left to right: Apirat Infahsaeng, Anzelina (Okarmus) Coodey, our Thames Printing liaison (inside from window, barely visible), Mary Banas, Erica Flamand (obscured), Edvin Yegir (facing away from camera and holding a copy of “Intersection”), John Paul Chirdon, and Bryan Langdeau. I was the photographer (and roof instigator). Spring 2003.

Edvin Yegir, our Design Center professor, was initially reluctant but ultimately agreed, much to our shared joy. (If a photo of us calmly sitting on that gently sloped rooftop but a single story from the soft, grassy lawn below makes you nervous, you should have seen the day JP Chirdon skateboarded off of it as we filmed him from underneath.)

A late apology

With twenty years of hindsight it’s easy to see that our “brilliant” catalog design did not meet the expectations and needs of our audience. How many exhibition visitors accidentally ripped apart their catalogs while just trying to turn a page? I hope the MFA candidates, their family, friends, and others on the receiving end of our design can forgive us for delivering such a nonintuitive booklet that was meant to be in celebration of laboriously produced thesis artwork. We were young and we thought we were being smart. We thought we were artists. But we were merely smartists. I apologize.