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Openings and Closings: what I’ve been up to the past seven months

29 Oct 2019

It’s been busy, busy, busy here at Christine Lefebvre Design since I last posted—seven months ago—about the Baselitz and Lozano-Hemmer exhibitions at the Hirshhorn. Thank you to anyone out there who still follows!

Around the same time, and since, we’ve seen a bunch of openings: Five Communities at the National Law Enforcement Museum; Digital Disruption and A Deadly Attack at the Newseum; Habitat for Smithsonian Gardens (more photos to come); Hoops at the National Building Museum; Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry at the Colby College Museum of Art (more photos to come); and Man Walks on the Moon for the Newseum at Dulles and Reagan Airports (more photos to come).

A few are already nearing the ends of their runs! If you have a chance to visit any, I would love to hear from you.

The Newseum will close its doors on December 31, 2019 (though the Freedom Forum and the Newseum’s collection will carry on). It’s your last chance to see Digital Disruption in the News History gallery, and the rest of the museum’s incredible exhibitions.

I worked with the Newseum on three “pop-up” exhibitions, on view concurrently at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. The first of these, Man Walks on the Moon, is closing this week.

Another pop-up at Dulles and Reagan airports will soon take its place—the exhibitions are currently being installed—followed by a third in the spring.

Also closing soon is Hoops: Community Portraits by Bill Bamberger at the National Building Museum. Hoops will close on December 1, 2019, after which the museum will close temporarily from December 2 until March 2020. The gist of a glowing review from a friend: “I thought this wouldn’t interest me because I could care less about basketball, however … this is a really great exhibit!”

When the Building Museum reopens, you can look forward to my next exhibition for them, Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer.

Wíwənikan…the beauty we carry at the Colby College Museum of Art will close on January 12, 2020. If you find yourself in the Waterville, Maine area please pay a visit.

And that takes us through the end of 2019! If you miss any of the exhibitions that are closing soon, Smithsonian Gardens’ Habitat will remain on view (all over the National Mall) through at least December 2020, and of course there are those three upcoming openings. Until our next check-in….

I’m back!…with two more exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum

25 Mar 2019


Phew! It’s been a busy 14+ months since I last posted. (14 months?! Oh my….) In that time, I’ve designed seven exhibitions of varying size and scope, four print projects, and three large production jobs. I’m currently in early design developing for an exciting project in Maine, and then there’s the typical day-to-day of running a small design studio. Yep, just sitting around eating bon-bons.

In an attempt to get back into posting on The Exhibit Designer, I’m kicking off with a neat book-end to my last post: two more exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum. These two were both located in the same gallery, and were mounted one after the other.



Baselitz: Six Decades ran from June 21, 2018 through September 16, 2018, then Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse opened November 1. Pulse is on view for another month, if you’d like to check it out! More photos of the projects are here: Baselitz / Pulse.

The title treatment for Pulse played on the pulsing incandescent light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in the installation Pulse Room…


…while the title for Baselitz was a straight-forward title lockup. An early concept, in which “George” and “Baselitz” were alternately flipped upside down—Baselitz is known for his “inverted” paintings—was rejected, and I am a little sad for what could have been.


The straight-forward lockup did create a neat little effect as you ascended the escalator, as the letters’ reflections refracted in the glass.


Until the next post…


Current work on view: The Utopian Projects and What Absence Is Made Of, at the Hirshhorn Museum

05 Jan 2018

The Markus Lüpertz exhibition I shared in my last post is no longer up at the Hirshhorn (it came and went so quickly!), but the museum has two other exhibitions currently on view for which I designed the graphics.

First, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: The Utopian Projects:


Working in collaboration with the museum’s design department, I designed the exhibition’s title wall, didactic graphics, and wall quotations.

The title wall graphic is printed on DreamScape’s Caviar self-adhesive wallcovering. I like the print quality of DreamScape‘s wallcoverings—I first spec’ed them for the FDR Library and Museum in upstate New York, and have used them a few times since.


The wallcovering was installed using butt seams. The installers (Blair, Inc. in Virginia, also the graphics fabricator) did a good job wrapping the wallcovering around the wall’s edge, a tricky detail that would have looked terrible if done poorly.


The graphic panels are digital prints wrapped on sign blank with a matte over-laminate. They’re hung on French cleats, simple but strong, and an easy way to hang nearly anything. Also on the panels’ backsides is MDF blocking that provides rigidity for the sign blank fronts. Here’s a photo I snapped during installation, of the panels’ backsides:




The Utopian Projects is on view through March 4. The Kabakovs’ work is fascinating—their models are so cool. Check it out if you can!

The other exhibition at the Hirshhorn, for which I designed the graphics, is What Absence Is Made Of, on view through Summer 2019. For this exhibition I designed the title wall, didactics, and an advertising poster for the National Mall.


The curator requested reflective vinyl. In addition to layout experiments, I also played with color combinations (silver on white? silver on black? on gray? which gray?). I love the way the selected title design looks in silver vinyl—it catches reflections and disappears/reappears as you walk by it.



If you’re interested, there are more photos of both exhibitions on my portfolio page.


Current work on view: “Markus Lüpertz: Threads of History” at the Hirshhorn Museum, and a visit to Sound Scene X

10 Jul 2017

A quick check-in here!

I stopped by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden this past weekend for Sound Scene X, and to take some photos of a project I currently have on view in the museum’s lower level.


I worked with the museum’s design staff to develop the graphic concept for their exhibition Markus Lüpertz: Threads of History, on view through September 10.


I developed the concept for the exhibition graphics, and after many rounds of refinement, handed over template files for the museum’s designers to produce final graphics (with the exception of the timeline graphic, which I laid out). This was done because of scheduling—usually I prefer to handle the layout of final production files.



I also designed two exterior signs advertising the exhibition, for display outside the museum. The blue sign has already been replaced with one for another exhibition—things move fast on the Mall sometimes!

Additional photos of the exhibition are up on my portfolio.


Please check out the exhibition if you’re in the DC area! And if you like it, there’s a concurrently-open exhibition Markus Lüpertz at the Phillips Collection. I have become a fan of Lüpertz’s work—particularly the Donald Duck paintings, one of which you can see through the exhibition’s entrance in the first photo, and on the blue sign above.


This weekend was a good time to be a kid (of any age) at the Hirshhorn—the galleries were full of interactive sound installations, live museum, and sound-related activities, all part of Sound Scene X: “Dissonance.”


While at the museum, I also took the opportunity to check out their newly opened exhibition, Ai WeiWei: Trace at Hirshhorn.



I’m currently working with the museum on another exhibition, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Utopian Projects, set to open in a month. Stay tuned for that!

South Korean Museum visits: Mr. Toilet House and Nam June Paik

24 May 2017

In April I spent two weeks in South Korea and a week in Japan. (Why two weeks in South Korea?? I’ve been asked incredulously a few times. Quick answer: my sister and brother-in-law live there. Another quick answer: it’s a great place to visit!)

While in Eastern Asia, I do what I always do while touristing, and visited many museums. Some of them were forgettable, but some of them I think are worthy of a post, including these two that are thematically very(!!) different, but geographically, neighbors. They’re both located in Suwon, about 20 miles south of Seoul.

First up is the Toilet Museum (Haewoojae) also known as “Mr. Toilet House.”


The story behind Mr. Toilet House: Suwon’s late mayor Sim Jae-Duck was given the nickname “Mr. Toilet” for his passionate leadership of the “Toilet Culture Movement” to improve public toilets. In 1996 he started the Beautiful Toilet Culture Campaign, and the city declared its intent to build the most beautiful public toilets in the world (motivated also in part by the then-upcoming 2002 FIFA World Cup which they were to host). Mr. Toilet took things a bit further than merely creating government departments and task forces, however, when he rebuilt his own house in the shape of a toilet and named it Haewoojae, which means “a room where you can relieve your worries.” It features a central toilet room as the “core of living,” with transparent glass walls that turn opaque with the flip of a light switch.

The house was completed in 2007, and upon Sim’s death in 2009, it was willed to the city of Suwon. The city then converted it into a museum and culture park.


The museum is small and has clear, simple graphics (nearly all with English translations) that earnestly convey information about the history and global spread of modern sanitation, and other toilet-related subjects.

There are also lighthearted illustrations of poops and flies (including on the floor, used as a navigational device) and [perhaps unintentionally] hilarious double entendres in the writing.


Outside, there is a culture park. A meandering path leads you past examples of toilets used throughout Eastern and Western history, to give an understanding of how toilets have physically changed over time.


Next door you can visit the Haewoojae Culture Center for a birds-eye view of the Toilet Museum.



Next stop in Suwon: the Nam June Paik Art Center. The Nam June Paik Art Center opened in 2008 and holds 248 pieces of video installations and drawings, mostly of Nam June Paik’s but also of other contemporary artists. The art center hosts changing exhibitions of Paik’s work, special exhibitions of contemporary artists, performances, events, and educational programs. It also houses Paik’s archives and a library, undertakes research, and publishes scholarly journals and monographs.



The art center changes exhibitions regularly; they use their Nam June Paik-focused exhibitions to focus on different aspects of his work. While I was there, the exhibition was called Point-Line-Plane-TV, which “explor[ed] Nam June Paik’s canvas including intermedia such as television, score, film, and video, in notion of flatness.”


On the mezzanine level is the Education Room, seen in the photos below; a quiet place to have a seat and read some tables about the artist’s life.


Upstairs was Imaginary Asia, a special exhibition of 23 pieces in the motion images genre. Many of the videos were projected onto large walls, with small bench nooks that sat 2–3 people for viewing.



Like at Mr. Toilet House—and actually at many, many places I visited in South Korea—navigational cues and directions were applied directly to floors. In the Point-Line-Plane-TV exhibition they also applied interpretive text to the floor. Interpretive text was in both Korean and English.


Outside, the curved glass exterior of the the art center is modeled on the form of a grand piano, a common motif in Paik’s work, and on the letter P. But that is only apparent when you look at the museum map—the actual experience from outside is of an impressive modernist building.


There’s a small park just beside the museum—perfect for a rest after an afternoon’s museum visit—and nearby are the Gyeonggi Provincial Museum (which has limited English translations) and the Gyeonggi Children’s Museum.

Current work on view: “Letters With Wings” sneak peek at the National Postal Museum

28 Mar 2017

If you stop by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum during the next couple of months, you’ll be able to see two exhibitions that I’ve designed. One is New York City: A Portrait Through Stamp Art (on view through May 14; quick blog post here); the other just opened.

Beneath the museum’s escalators, in the Franklin Foyer, are two cases for temporary exhibitions. The museum intends to change these cases often with displays of recent acquisitions, favorite objects, niche subjects, and the like.


I created a design system for the museum’s in-house use when putting together these quick-and-small exhibitions, and I designed the first exhibition to use the system: a “sneak peek” of an upcoming exhibition about WWII airmail tentatively called Letters With Wings.



The design system included color palette, guidelines for layout of didactic and label graphics, sets of case furniture and graphic panels, and examples of case arrangements.



I also designed a series of banners and an “attract graphic” to brand the Franklin Foyer space. The attract graphic will be a geometric, cone-like acrylic structure with a changeable title panel; two will be installed in the open triangles of space between the artifact cases and the undersides of the escalators. (You can see the “open triangles of space” in the photos above.) They will protrude ever-so-slightly into the space, above head level, and draw visitors’ attention from the atrium space. They’re not currently installed, but I look forward to seeing them there in the future.


Back to the currently installed exhibition, Letters With Wings. There are no physical artifacts in either case so artifacts are represented as printed graphics. (Docents will occasionally bring out the real objects for visitors, while they also prepare them for the larger exhibition.) Still, the printed objects are mounted to sintra, which gives the graphic panels depth.



If you’re in the Washington, DC area, please check out this little exhibition, and New York Stamp Art too, while they’re still on view!


Pointe-à-Callière: Crossroads and Building Montréal, plus Snow

25 Mar 2017

My final post about the Montréal museums I saw during my visit to the city in September 2015 (see also the Insectarium, the Biodôme, and “Lazy Love” at the Biodôme); here’s a look back at Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Archeology and History Complex.


The Pointe-à-Callière complex is built on archeological sites that span the city’s history. Exploring the museum is very interesting, and a lot of fun; you take passageways, bridges, and stairs over and through the archeological remains. Like the museum building itself, which was built on pilings to protect the site, exhibition elements tread lightly among the artifacts, and visitors are asked repeatedly via signage not to touch the remains.

Like most places in Montréal, museum graphics are in French with English translations. I like the way the two languages are interwoven on the red lobby banner above.


The permanent exhibition in the basement, Crossroads Montréal, takes you through 1,000 years of the city’s remains, including the first Catholic cemetery (dating from 1643), and the foundation of the Royal Insurance Building (dating from 1861). Excavations continue and more exhibitions are planned to interpret what is unearthed.

On the one hand: very cool premise, and very cool space to explore. On the other…I had trouble getting and keeping my bearings. Perhaps because the graphics didn’t hold my attention? The ruins themselves were more intriguing than any block of text could ever be.


I would have liked more information directed at the museum “streakers” like myself: the people who move quickly through exhibitions, and only read titles and very selective [random] bits and pieces of labels. (On my best days, I can be a “stroller.”) Perhaps a printed guide map would have helped me to understand where I was within the museum and what I was looking at. Perhaps I should have taken a guided tour.


I did like the graphics’ integration into the museum’s building structure, particularly the ceilings, and the minimalist construction-site aesthetic of their structures. Artifact cases, too, were carefully integrated into the site.




Most graphics were rear-illuminated, which worked perfectly with the museum’s underground atmosphere.



Also belowground is the Building Montréal exhibition, where you’ll find the museum’s archeological crypt.


The photo above is of the vaulted stone tunnel built on the bed of the Saint-Pierre River. (See what I mean about the museum being fun to explore?)


Set into the floor of Building Montréal are more than a dozen dioramas that show the city at different points in time. I love this use of space, and the vantage point it gives visitors. (I wrote this post about exhibition flooring, seven years ago, and Bridget mentioned the Pointe-à-Callière in the comments. I finally saw it for myself!)




At the time, the museum had a temporary exhibition on view called Snow, a fun look at winter culture in Canada.



Note the snowflakes cut from the apron fronts of reader rails in the photo below.


Space for Life part 2: Insectarium

15 Mar 2017

(Also check out Space for Life part 1: Biodôme.)

The Insectarium was our second stop in Montréal’s natural museum complex [called Espace Pour La Vie (“Space for Life”)]. It’s a fascinating, excellently-designed museum. (And doesn’t its exterior look vaguely like a home for insects, almost like a bee hive?)


The permanent exhibition is called We Are the Insects and it is predominately…green. Graphics are a mix of strikingly clean layouts and comic book-inspired illustrations.


The view down to the bulk of the exhibition:


Each of the glowing cubes you see is a display case. Specimens are pinned to a rear-lit graphic, around text and images arranged in a clean, grid-driven design. Each layout looked nicer than the last, so I’m going to share photos of many.


Some layouts revealed a sense of humor, like this one with its ants on march.


Accent color and a stylized illustration indicated the habitat of the grouping of insect specimens on display.



Throughout the exhibition there were terrariums, and beneath some display cubes there were dioramas (faux terrariums, if you will).



There were also wall displays, and plenty of interesting charts and diagrams, done as both straight-graphics and as a mix of graphics and specimens, like the family tree below.


There were sections about insect lifestyles, diets, reproduction, and what people can do to protect endangered insects. The sheer number of these displays could have made for a repetitive slog , but it did not feel that way at all—specimens were fascinating, text was succinct, and the layouts were visually varied while staying true to the design system.




Outside were additional exhibitions and a temporary interactive art installation, and then it was off to explore the Botanical Garden.


Space for Life part 1: Biodôme

14 Mar 2017

Back in September 2015, I spent a handful of days in Montréal. I visited a few museums, but at the time, only one temporary exhibition at the Biodôme received brief mention on this blog. This happens all the time—I take photos everywhere I go, and then I just sit on them…

So let’s dust off those photos (or pretend it’s September 2015), and visit the Biodôme.


The Biodôme is part of a museum complex called Espace Pour La Vie (“Space for Life”) that also includes the Insectarium, Jardin botanique (botanical gardens), and Planétarium. You can buy combination admission tickets and pick which you would like to visit, but don’t miss the Insectarium.

The largest exhibition, and primary draw, within the Biodôme is Ecosystems of the Americas. The exhibition is broken into four ecosystems conveyed by immersive landscaping, climate, and live vegetation and wildlife. The air inside the Tropical Rainforest ecosystem is warm and muggy, while inside the Sub-Antarctic Islands ecosystem, for example, it is decidedly chilly.


Inside the Tropical Rainforest you walk through mature and secondary forests, and pass a waterfall, lake, river, cliffs, and caves. Graphics throughout are minimal, restricted to brief labels and occasional monitors. Like most places in Montréal, text is in French, with English translations.


Charming illustrations and species’ statuses are available in the free Identification Guide, but this too is light on information beyond identification. Not that I mind—museums can be exhausting!


Inside the cave you’ll find terrarium-dwellers and nocturnal-types; these graphics were all rear-illuminated, and included a bit more information.


Moving along, you reach the Laurentian Maple Forest. At the entrance to each ecosystem you are greeted by a large wall mural: a collage of color-saturated photos, clean-lined vector illustrations, and a where-in-the-world diagram.



Maintaining the minimal aesthetic throughout, there are still elements of whimsy, such as photos of playful otters applied to the glass wall of their enclosure. Wayfinding elements also show up on the floor, and on support columns.


Downstairs, there are a couple of small exhibitions: the Naturalia Room, which is directed toward children, and a temporary exhibition, which at the time was The Fossil Affair.


Overall, the Biodôme was a fun museum to visit, and the immersive ecosystems were well-done.

(Also check out Space for Life part 2: Insectarium.)

AIGA DC Design Week, at the National Building Museum

31 Oct 2016


DC Design Week events have wrapped. This was a good Design Week—there were many more events than in years past, with a range of design focuses (and I was able to make it to a number of them).

An event of particular interest to exhibition designers was held on Wednesday, at the National Building MuseumDesign Matters with Debbie Millman featuring Abbott Miller: Design for the Built Environment. The conversation touched on exhibition design, architectural graphics, and performance design. And as a bonus, prior to the event start, the museum’s newest temporary exhibition, Timber City, was open to us designers.


Timber City opened in September and is on view at NBM through May 2017. The two huge title signs in the museum atrium draw your eye up and point to the bay where the exhibition is located. Also impressive in its scale is the scaffolding holding up the signage.


The exhibition is not restricted to the interior gallery space. Lining the hall outside the gallery are large plinths, of staggered heights, that feature stories about buildings’ timber technology. Within the window bays are views into the exhibition, and architectural models in cases. The text on the painted green walls appears to be cut vinyl.



Inside the gallery space, the exhibition is made up of large-scale, extra-thick, freestanding wood walls. (You can see the support structures below.) Graphics appear to be a mix of direct-print and cut vinyl. The large murals at either end of the gallery space are applied wallpapers.




Of note: Laminated Strand Lumber does not take cut vinyl letters well (above).


In the center of the gallery space are a trio of cheeky display case plinths, made of stacked wood circles. The wood walls are peppered with infographics, stylized illustrations, and green circles highlighting quick facts about timber.




Timber City was curated and designed by the Boston-based ikd. And thanks to AIGA DC for putting on a great week of design events!