Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship
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Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship

Mildred Friedman and Roberto Matta, 1966

We are happy to announce that the Walker design fellowship position will now be named the Mildred Friedman Design Fellow. Known to many as Mickey, Mildred Friedman served as the editor of Design Quarterly and was the Walker Art Center design curator for much of the ’70s and ’80s. She organized a series of groundbreaking exhibitions, sometimes in collaboration with Martin Friedman, such as Sottsass/Superstudio: Mindscapes (1973); New Learning Spaces and Places (1974); Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller (1975); De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia (1982); The Architecture of Frank Gehry (1986), the architect’s first major museum exhibition; Tokyo: Form and Spirit (1986), featuring the work of Japanese designers such as Arata Isozaki, Tadanori Yokoo, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, and Eiko Ishioka; Architecture Tomorrow (1988–1991), a series of installations undertaken by Frank Israel, Morphosis, Todd Williams/Billie Tsien, Stanley Saitowitz, Diller+Scofidio, and Steven Holl; and Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History (1989), the first large-scale museum survey of the field in the United States.



Above: issues of Design Quarterly edited by Mildred Friedman

The Walker’s Design Department began its internship program for graphic designers in 1980 under Mickey’s watch and ever since, it has uniquely provided recent graduates an opportunity to practice design as part of the Walker’s award-winning studio team. Unlike typical internships, fellows engage in all aspects of the design process, from initial client meetings through press checks. It is this holistic exposure that differentiates the Walker fellowship from more fragmented internships. Fellows work extensively with internal clients as well as external vendors, present and advocate for their solutions, participate in studio discourse—from critiques to blog writing—and, of course, shape the design of their work. Each fellow works independently as well as collaboratively with other studio members, whether the design director, senior designers, studio manager, pre-press specialist, or editors. Thus, fellows contribute wholly to the Walker’s design team as full-time graphic designers for an entire year. They come to the Walker from across the globe and have left the Walker to pursue a variety of opportunities, from working for companies such as Apple, Dwell, Nike, and Chronicle to founding their own design studios to inevitably working for a variety of museums and cultural institutions, and of course teaching design at universities around the world. (Apply.)

A selection of posters promoting the Design Fellowship throughout the years:


Below is a conversation about design at the Walker between Mildred Friedman and curator Joan Rothfuss, New York City, August 6, 2004:

Joan Rothfuss: When you began working at the Walker in the early 1970s, how did you define your role?

Mildred S. Friedman: I began by designing all of the office furnishings for the new building, working very closely with Ed [architect Edward Larrabee Barnes]. In the 1960s, I had worked as a designer for the architect Robert Cerny, so the Walker interiors were a natural project for me.

When the design of the building interiors was finished, it 
was necessary to develop other areas that were the Design Department’s responsibility. The journal Design Quarterly already existed, so that was an essential part of my job. I did change it. We recruited a number of incredible writers from outside the immediate area, people like Richard Saul Wurman, Rem Koolhaas, and Bill Stumpf, who had written on ergonomics, urban planning, and various important topics. In the 1970s and 1980s, Design Quarterly became a catalogue for a number of Walker exhibitions such as New Learning Spaces and Places; The Design Process at Herman Miller; The River: Images of the Mississippi; and many others.

Exhibition view of The River: Images of the Mississippi, 1976
Exhibition view of New Learning Spaces and Places, 1974

JR: These were groundbreaking exhibitions in many ways, but your curatorial activities took a dramatic leap with the Frank Gehry show.

MSF: In the early 1980s, I wanted to undertake a large-scale architecture exhibition. I didn’t know Frank Gehry, but I had been reading about his work for a long time and I thought it was significant. His office is in Los Angeles, so one day I just called him and asked, “How would you like to do an exhibition at the Walker Art Center?” And he said, “Where?” We told him it was near Canada, because, you know, he was born in Toronto.

JR: I had no idea—I thought you must have been the best of buddies before you started working together.

MSF: No, but he and his great wife, Berta, did become our friends as the exhibition developed. When I went to Los Angeles, I stayed in their guest house, and spent time visiting his projects and talking with members of his then-small staff. I asked him to create five full-scale objects for the show in which we would then put drawings, models, and photographs of built works. He created a lead-coated wood fish, a cardboard enclosure for his cardboard furniture, a copper enclosure, a Finnish plywood snake house, and a series of wood trees.

Mildred Friedman and Frank Gehry

It’s hard to believe now, but at that point Frank had a reputation mostly among architects, few others had heard of him. The exhibition traveled to New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston. It was the first opportunity for a wide audience to see his work.

Frank Gehry in his exhibition The Architecture of Frank Gehry, 1986

JR: Could you talk about the origins of the 1986 Tokyo: Form and Spirit exhibition?

MSF: Martin [Friedman] and I went to Tokyo because we were given a joint travel grant by the Japan Society. We went with Rand Castile, who was then head of the Japan House gallery, and Lily Auchincloss, who was his patroness. For almost a month, we traveled all over. Rand is an expert on Japan, as he had lived there for many years. We loved it. When we came back we said, “What are we going to do with all this information?” So we began thinking about an exhibition, but we didn’t know what it would be. We had met Arata Isozaki—one of Japan’s most prominent architects. He sat down with us and was incredibly helpful. To make a very long story a little shorter, he helped us arrive at the idea of talking about the Edo period and today’s Japan by comparing the two—in terms of the art that was produced, what it looked like, how it worked, and so forth. The concept was that we would look at major aspects of life, such as walking through the city, spirituality, working, playing—all the things that everybody does everyday. We would have objects to represent what each aspect looked like in the Edo period—for example, a tea house. Then we would ask a young architect (in that case Tadao Ando, of whom at that point almost no one in the United States was familiar) to design it. So throughout the show we would pair historical Edo objects with contemporary updates.

We borrowed most of the Edo-period material from American museums because it was difficult to get loans from Japan. Then we invited Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, Shiro Kuramata, Eiko Ishioka, Hiroshi Hara, Toyo Ito, Tadanori Yokoo, and Shigeo Fukuda to participate. We were lucky—when we went there in 1982, they were all happy to participate because they wanted to make reputations in the United States. Isozaki helped by introducing us to the others. It wasn’t that difficult. We had great fun with it.

Tokyo: Form and Spirit, 1986

JR: The exhibition had a sort of dry run in Tokyo, didn’t it?

MSF: Yes. We wanted to see the work before we brought it to the United States. There was really no other way to see it. A good deal of it looked pretty terrible. The materials were wrong in many instances—not what you would expect from Japan. Martin and I brought one of the Walker’s crew members over, and we did critiques. The projects needed some real materials and proper workmanship. It was a big success; parts of the show were shown in a Sapporo beer warehouse, an auditorium, the top floor of a fashion house, and so on. They sold tickets and had events at these various places. We finally got it all together and brought the whole thing back to the United States. We also had to bring over some Japanese craftsmen to work with us. Our crew was so magnificent because they took many incomplete installations and finished them. At the Walker, the show picked up a real edge.

Organizing Tokyo: Form and Spirit was a real adventure. One of the funniest stories concerns a video we were using to raise money for the project. Not speaking Japanese, we took the video around with us. During one visit with the Kyocera Company, which produces cell phones, we couldn’t make the video player work, so we asked for a technician to help. Two elderly gentlemen in snap-on bow ties came down. They looked like Maytag repairmen. We asked, “Could you please have this video played, so we could present it to the powers that be?” When they had it working, Martin said, “Now we are waiting for Mr. Nakamura and Mr. so-and-so…” And they said, “We are Mr. Nakamura and Mr.…” So, we sat there with red faces while this video played, and when it was all over Mr. Nakamura turned to Martin and said, “Now Friedman-san, would you be kind enough to tell me once again the name of your exhibition? Such interesting material you’re showing us. So persuasive, so beautifully documented.” So we told him, “We’re calling it Tokyo: Form and Spirit.” And he looked at his colleague and sort of smiled, and then he said, “But Friedman-san, this is Kyoto.” Martin said, “Oh, couldn’t we think of it as a working title?”

Needless to say, that story happened in many versions, but in the end we did get support from many generous people. •

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