What's Your Sign? Retail Architecture and the History of Signage

Figge Art Museum 225 West Second Street Davenport, Iowa 52801

For as long as goods have been bought and sold, shopkeepers and traders have found visually arresting ways to communicated their wares. However, signs are much more than advertisements. Sometimes, signs are the manifestations of desire. Alternately, signs can be textually directive, informing pedestrians and drivers of the wonders awaiting them within the shop. Occasionally, the product functions as its own signage, displayed alluringly for passersby.

 Unlike buildings, which are massive and exude a sense of permanence, signs are transitory. Though the structure may remain more or less the same when ownership transitions, signs let us know a shift has transpired - without signs, how would we discern that the greasy pizza place had transformed into an upscale vegan wrap emporium? Often employing design principles apparent in other contemporaneous print and visual media, signs tell us where we are in time as well as geography.

 Curated by Vero Rose Smith, this exhibition explores works in the University of Iowa Museum of Art permanent collections related to the evolution of signage. Additionally, a symposium on this topic  with a keynote address delivered by James Wines will be hosted at the University of Iowa on September 8th and 9th, 2017.

This exhibition  was made possible by the University of Iowa Museum of Art Legacies for Iowa: A Collections-Sharing Project, Supported by the Matthew Bucksbaum Family.

On view August 26, 2017, until November 26, 2017

Symposium keynote address:

September 8, 2017 7:00 pm
University of Iowa Art Building West, Room E240
141 Riverside Drive, Iowa City, IA 52246

Symposium paper sessions:

September 9, 2017  9:00 am–1:00 pm
University of Iowa Visual Arts Building, Room E125
107 River St, Iowa City, IA 52246

View the Exhibition Catalog

Audio Guide (click to listen on SoundCloud):

Track 1: Introduction

Track 2: Aluminum Durga Sign

Track 3: Barbershop Sign 

Track 4: Hokusai

Track 5: Gatra

Track 6: Yewell

Track 7: Ganso