Mac Conner—A New York Life

Merit Award 2017

“Mac Conner—A New York Life” was shown in one of the first floor galleries at the Museum of the City of New York. This was the first exhibition of Mac Conner’s work and paid homage to one of the industry’s greats. It was part of a series of temporary exhibitions to educate the public on the past and future of New York City.

Studio Joseph had the unique opportunity to work with McCauley “Mac” Conner, now 101 years old, for this first exhibition on his work. Conner began his career in New York’s “Mad Men” era in the years after World War II, when commercial artists were helping to redefine American style and culture. He contributed to and characterized this style with hand-painted illustrations for advertising campaigns and women’s magazines.

Conner said to the design team, “I’m not an artist, I’m an illustrator, and this is my archive.” The idea of “archive” became the underpinning for the exhibition concept. Conner’s hand-painted illustrations for advertising campaigns and women’s magazines like Redbook and McCall’s, are at the center of the vibrant display. One hundred paintings, sketches, preliminary Polaroid studies, and original magazines from Conner’s collection are included in the exhibition. A short interview with Conner, explaining his work, and its context is located in an introductory section outside the 2,000-square-foot hall.

The curatorial team wanted to showcase the varied methods and approaches of his work and its evolution. This presented a design challenge of grouping themes and also presenting the work in concert with each other. The varying sizes of each piece and their strong color palette presented yet another element for our design team to wrestle with. Simple material choices helped accomplish the goal of keeping costs down while presenting a clean, crisp archive of work.

The intention of the layout was to create the feeling of an archival storage set in the vibrant era of Conner’s heyday. Studio Joseph designed a series of freestanding walls that seem to slip past each other, allowing for the thickness required for stability at the center, while also feeling thin and light on the edges. The white surfaces of the walls holding framed art and the wood areas have graphics and introductory text. After examining the common color palettes in the archives, one image was picked to be the base color template for the show. This allowed for the vibrancy of each individual artwork to stand out but also maintained coherency. The randomly shifting walls evoke an image of archival storage. Large black and white murals on two walls showing a downtown Gotham scene reflected in a full height mirror give the distinct feeling of being in a Madison Avenue advertising office.

The Studio Joseph team measured their success on the public profile of the project. The show was covered by several press outlets including The New York Times, NBC New York, New York Post, Gothamist and the Wall Street Journal.

Jury Comments: 

"The designer's sensibility to materials, motion and scale are sensitive, allowing for Mac Conner’s work to shine. The building scene creates a lovely juxtaposition and provides a sense of place and scale to the objects. The mirrored wall was a simple, smart way to make the space feel expansive like the landscape of New York."

"Bookended and retained typography, shelf-like display layout and repetitive Madison Avenue facade wallpaper strengthen the exhibit’s restrained impact."

Client: 

Museum of the City of New York

Project Area: 

2,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

September 2015

Photo Credits: 

Eduard Hueber, ArchPhoto, Inc.

Design Team: 

Wendy Evans Joseph (principal in charge), Monica Coghlan (project manager) 

Consultants: 

Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design (Lighting Consultant) 

Fabricators: 

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