Robert Reid’s Digital Typographical Experiments on Display at Massey College

The works of Robert R. Reid, stalwart Alcuin Society member and collaborator, and occasional blogger in this space, are featured in a wonderful exhibition at the Robertson Davies Library at Massey College, the University of Toronto. I took a moment the other day to pop in to see the exhibition in person. The exhibit is the last stop in a three part traveling show curated by the Curatorial Research Project of CAUSA (Collective for Advanced & Unified Studies in the Visual Arts). Previous locations were Simon Fraser University Library and McGill University Library.

A series of typographical images at the Robertson Davies Library

A series of typographical images at the Robertson Davies Library

Titled Robert Reid: Graphic Design in the Digital Era, the exhibit runs until December 2017 and features 42 (by my count) aphorisms and quotations designed by Reid and printed in poster format. The posters are mounted on the walls of the library space as well as in several exhibit cases, and viewers are encouraged to ramble around the room and consider them in turn. Each takes as its subject the conversation between the quotation, its design and typography, and the reader’s response as they make their way around, finding connections and correlations between the quotations and the diverse ways in which they are represented. Indeed, the whole exhibition is a real study in the influence that design and typography have over interpretation – the meaning of which is left to the reader! The sources reveal a wide interest with a definite focus on quotations relating to concepts in media, information and knowledge, from philosophers both modern (Suzanne Langer, Marshall McLuhan) and ancient (Chuang Tzu), and Victorian-era thinkers (Havelock Ellis) to poets (e.e. cummings), Canadian authors (Robertson Davies, of course), and even the occasional typographer (Eric Gill). The experience is termed by David Bellman, a CAUSA curator writing about the pieces that were on display at McGill University as one involving “TYPOGRAPHICAL TELETRANSPORTATION” (emphasis in original).

The exhibit documentation includes a three-part catalogue of all of the pieces. It is noted that “components of the present exhibition will be intermittently replaced (and/or rearranged), in order to maximize the scope of an exploratory curatorial initiative.” I surmise that this means that the exhibit is changed over from time to time but haven’t had the chance to get back in to check if this is so.

A view of the Roberton Davies library's outside greenery.

A view of the Roberton Davies library’s outside greenery.

"The book is the world's most patient medium - Northrup Frye"

An appropriate quotation from Northrup Frye.

Reid, for whom the Alcuin Society’s illustrious Robert R. Reid medal for achievement in the book arts is named, is highly regarded as a typographer and graphic designer in Canada and has been recognized for his long career as an innovative designer and producer of beautiful books in the fine press tradition. He taught in printing and graphic design at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art + Design) from 1957-1962, and then lived and worked in Montreal to 1976, where he joined McGill University Press as Director of Design and Production for five years. Thereafter he moved to the United States to pursue publishing for various presses in New York and operated a private press in New Haven, CT. He moved back to Vancouver in 1997. He now operates under the mantle of “Digital Experimental Typographer,” the results of which are amply on display here.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by the Robertson Davies Library at Massey College during its opening hours (9-5, Monday to Friday). The library is located downstairs from the main entrance. It is noted that visitors should stop by the Porter’s Lodge on the way in to announce their presence, as Massey is a private residential college.

— Grant Hurley