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What was your point of entry to design? My introduction to design was probably when I was in grammar school, as my mother pursued continuing education in design and fashion design. We moved to France when I was about twelve years old, and my exposure to the arts was a major imprint on my youth. Even though my undergraduate degree was in international relations and ethnic studies, I would somehow figure out a way to pursue the arts late into my studies. I moved to New York City after graduation and worked some jobs in publishing; moonlighted as a stylist’s assistant; interned at magazines, streetwear companies; and somehow found myself at the design consultancy 2x4, working under Michael Rock, Susan Sellers and Georgie Stout—first as an intern, and then as a junior designer. They saw something in me that I didn’t even recognize at that point, and encouraged me to pursue graduate school at Yale University. That is where everything changed for me.

As the new director of graphic design at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, how do you hope to further the museum’s commitment to innovation? I hope my experience in digital and editorial will help push the boundaries of what a museum’s digital platform can achieve. I think art organizations, like most museums, have been reluctant to invest in the digital space, as it is a new frontier for them. Rightly so, but at the same time, the way we interact with and view art has to change with the times. This is the only way art can stay ahead of the curve and remain a cultural critic for the world. This does not necessarily mean working with very high-tech innovations, it means being smarter about how technology is being implemented and accessed by a wider audience. Cancel culture and censorship also need to be approached more critically in order to create a space for innovation. This binary dialogue of right versus left and right versus wrong is like a cat chasing its tail. We know history repeats itself. How do we work with the tools we have to create something new, rather than shutting down, erasing and, in the end, repeating the same mistakes?

How has working at the Guggenheim affected the way you see the relationship between art and design? It is probably too early to tell as I just started in mid-September 2020 during COVID crisis mode, but my practice prior to the museum was very multidisciplinary. I have a strong point of view of how graphic and environmental design, publishing, and curation have shared foundations and aren’t as separate as one would like to believe. I have found that most Europeans understand my approach much better than Americans do, and that might have a lot to do with my own upbringing and mash-up of interests and life experiences.

What are some of the most memorable exhibits you’ve seen at the Guggenheim and other museums? Most recently, Grief and Grievance Art and Mourning in America at the New Museum. What a show. But my favorites are really varied. Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video at the Guggenheim, David Hammons at the Hauser & Wirth, Josh Kline’s exhibitions at 47Canal and the Whitney Biennial, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lucy Kim’s work in the 2017 James and Audrey Foster Prize exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Michael Wang’s Carbon Copies project at Foxy Production, Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better at the Guggenheim, Ruby Sky Stiler’s exhibitions at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery and Titus Kaphar’s exhibitions at the Jack Shainman Gallery. Many of these artists are friends and colleagues from graduate school.

Collaboration does not mean compromise. Never settle.”

What are ways that museums and art organizations can remain relevant in a post-COVID world? Don’t be afraid to shift and evolve programming approaches. The old world has provided some structure to work with, but it has revealed itself to be a broken system. People who understand the significance of cross-disciplinary practices and collaboration become key players in creating change.

What changes have you observed in the design industry since you started your creative agency With Projects twelve years ago? I have said this for a while, but I think we are living in an age of mediocrity with the creative industry overall. Fashion, design, product design and even fine arts have really streamlined their points of views to feel identical. Social media has unfortunately homogenized the output of design and visual culture.

What do you wish you had known when you first founded With Projects? I wish there were business classes available to people who wanted to start businesses on their own. Having ideas is one thing. Having taste is another. But running a business is an entirely different type of animal, one that pushes you far more than anything else.

You also created White Zinfandel, a biannual food and culture magazine. What is the connection between food and art, and why is it important to you? Food is integral to us in the way sleep and sex are. We cannot exist without it— whether we are “foodies” or not, we have an intimate relationship with food. I found that food topics could easily translate into visual social commentary and critique. At the time, White Zinfandel was a print output of what I was doing with my art space in Chinatown. It was another platform integrating various practices together under themes that could act as jumping points to build new work.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing designers? We are living in a time when instant gratification through “measures of success” has become our priority. Design is geared towards fitting a social-media format. I can’t distinguish one designer from another. Young designers want to become famous before they can even develop and mature their voice. But I think this is not just an issue with graphic designers; it is everywhere.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Collaboration does not mean compromise. Never settle. Visual hoarding is not a point of view.

Jiminie Ha is a creative director, curator and publisher based in New York City, and founder of the award-winning creative agency With Projects, Inc. Her practice has been recognized through various awards and organizations such as the Alice Kimball English Traveling Fellowship, the American Academy in Rome Prize and TDC66. As creative director, she led the successful rebrand and redesign of prominent arts and culture entities such as ArtAsiaPacific, Harvard Design Magazine and Surface. Her work has been published in Harper’s Bazaar Korea, the New York Times and Paper. She holds a BA from Brown University and a MFA from Yale School of Art.

Photo credit: Huy Luong

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