Debbie Millman explores words and language every day.
For 20 years until 2016, that exploration might have been part of creating a branding strategy for a company such as Campbell’s Soup. Now it might mean interviewing an innovative designer on her “Design Matters” podcast, which she launched in 2005. Regardless, the internationally renowned designer’s career revolves around nonverbal communication.
The core of her work can be seen at the Museum of Design Atlanta, 1315 Peachtree St., Midtown, in an exhibition titled “Text Me: How We Live in Language.” The exhibit features the work of more than 60 artists and designers, including Israeli typographer Oded Ezer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Stephanie Brody Lederman, Timothy Goodman, Abbott Miller and Adam J. Kurtz.
Each piece explores how we live with text, from a shower curtain hanging in the women’s restroom to “The Fountain” by artist Ken Carbone. Each contributor builds on the mundane experiences of everyday life to create work that speaks volumes.
The exhibit considers typography — from social media to tattoos, from road signs to fine art, from clothes to consumer goods — as the core of human communication and connection.
It has been a dream of Millman’s to create an exhibit around her work, and now she’s finally seeing it come to fruition.
“I’ve been working a really long time. I didn’t get any significant cultural attention until my 40s, when I started writing and doing the podcast,” Millman said. “I truly believe anything worthwhile takes time. The longer something takes, the better you know how to take care of it.”
The MODA exhibit was designed by Susan Sanders, who took the phrase “how we live in language” literally and figuratively. Her work is progressive but simple enough to convey a message, she said.
“When we first talked about the show and the notion of ‘Text Me: How We Live in Language,’ that became the driving force behind some of what you see here today,” said Sanders, MODA’s in-house designer. “The effort is not to be very literal, but very literal in some ways.”
The exhibit includes a living space designed with a bedroom, a living room with a couch, a library, and a bathroom, complete with urinals and a bathtub filled with sand to “draw your own bath.” A dress by Lesley Dill, titled “I Dismantle Suit,” has words on the layers of fabric. Carbone’s “The Fountain” consists of a set of urinals sending the message “Art Proves One Man’s Plumbing Is Another Man’s Art.”
The exhibit takes the subtleties of graphic design and thrusts them to the forefront in way that makes a highly stylized statement. The words of each piece are placed throughout the museum to demonstrate how we live with language, said Laura Flusche, MODA’s executive director.
“Another interesting thing with this exhibition is that we’ve gone a little bit out of the box,” Flusche said. “We tried to use a lot of space we normally don’t use in exhibitions.”
A set table is suspended from the ceiling, elongating the hallway, and a piece that reads “You Are Here” overlooks the lobby.
A piece by Elle Luna, an artist featured in the show, is placed on a corner wall next to the restrooms. Her work addresses finding your own voice, she said.
“When we think about the shoulds in life and the shoulds are from the outside in, it’s all the expectations and obligations you feel that people layer upon you,” Luna said. “Must at its core is who you are and what you know to be true. My journey has been to try and stay on the must path.”
The exhibit, which opened Sunday, Sept. 17, runs through Feb. 4.