Up-close and Funk-y – Register Guard
By Bob Keefer, The Register-Guard
Designer David Funk has been a fixture in Eugene’s advertising and graphic design scene for more than three decades.
An exhibit up at Opus VII through April 16 celebrates Funk, his work and his influence in the community.
“Form Follows Funk” represents exactly the kind of show that owner Kaz Oveissi has said he wanted to create since reopening the once-more-conventional gallery — formerly called Opus6ix — in a new physical and business configuration last year as an “art, architecture, design and social venue.”
No one else in Eugene’s gallery world has paid much attention to architecture and design. So Oveissi saw both an opportunity and a need to be filled.
What he’s done to fill it raises interesting questions about the role of galleries, even unconventional ones, when they start exhibiting the products of private businesses.
First, the show.
“Form Follows Funk” is a slickly produced, museum-style exhibit that begins, near the gallery door, with a panel about Funk’s career — which has gone through several business incarnations, from Rubick & Funk, which he started with the late Thomas Rubick, to the current partnership with Jennifer Bell, bell+funk.
The show includes several posters designed by Funk over the years, such as a stark ink drawing of a pair of Canada geese with the inscription “No smoking,” as well as numerous pages from his sketchbooks and journals. It has an interactive area, where people are invited to design their own bottle caps.
There’s even a re-creation of Funk’s workspace, with a drafting table, a set of Prismacolor pencils, a series of 19th century Eadweard Muybridge anatomical motion photos and the kind of notes and snapshots you might find tacked up around anyone’s office.
This has a slightly odd and probably unintended effect: The desk, by virtue of being presented in a museumlike setting, unfortunately leaves a slight impression that the owner must be dead, or at least no longer around.
Funk is very much alive. And he is one of those people who sketches so beautifully you want to crawl inside one of his journals for a vacation.
There’s an Eastern Oregon stream here, a careful sketch of a mallow plant there. A bus in Havana, a fence in Panama — all these images are dashed off splendidly.
More fun still is a collection of concept sketches, which make you wonder what kind of clients Funk had in mind. A picture of a woman serenely lying in a bed is captioned, “Today is the first day of the rest of your wife.”
A farmer holds a pitchfork above the line: “Go ahead. Rake my hay.”
An entire section of the show has art related to the late Thomas Rubick, Funk’s former partner, who ran the graphic design program at Lane Community College for many years.
Don’t miss the long, scroll-like horizontal sketch that tells the somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Thomas Rubick Story.” Funk easily could make his living as a graphic novelist, it seems.
The heart of the show is a long wall, stretching most of the length of the gallery, highlighting the careers of more than a dozen designers and artists who have worked for Funk over the years. Titled “Connections,” this area offers the greatest possibilities and is the most problematic of any part of the exhibit.
Each of the people — some of whom are well-known local artists — is represented in a black-and-white photograph along with a lightweight Dewar’s profile-style interview. (“Favorite letter? G.”)
Former Funk employee Beverley Soasey, for example, is an assemblage artist and also works as director of the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center. Eugene artist Rogene Manas is here, as well as a number of people who have gone out on their own as designers.
And it’s here that the basic concept of the show runs into problems.
“Form Follows Funk” was put together by Funk himself. While it bills itself as a retrospective, it might better be called an “autoretrospective,” as it lacks any independent curatorial voice.
As such, the whole thing, especially the “Connections” profiles, ends up coming across as a giant valentine to Funk, by Funk.
You can read only so many lines like “He’s a marketing genius” and “He encourages creativity and collaboration” in response to softball questions such as, “What are David’s greatest strengths?” and “What makes David easy to work for?” before your interest starts to lag.
What’s missing, of course, is an outsider view, one that might place Funk and his work in a greater context.
Clearly he’s been influential in Eugene. But how, exactly? How does his work fit into the regional or national picture? We don’t have a clue.
And then there’s the question of money. On one level, “Form Follows Funk” adds up to a giant marketing brochure for David Funk and for bell+funk. Produced by Funk himself, it not only illustrates his past work for clients but is, itself, an example of his stylish marketing acumen.
So the question arises: Who’s paying whom here?
Museums often pay exhibition fees for work that they show.
Art galleries generally pay artists commissions on works they sell (though some, at the lower levels, charge a hanging fee).
Opus VII reopened last year with an unusual business model, in which a private business asks people for a membership fee. (You don’t need to pay any fee to go in and see this show.)
Funk, though, didn’t pay Oveissi to put up this show. It was sponsored by QSL Printing.
“Form Follows Funk” is worth going to see. It’s interesting and engaging. It just could have been more thorough.
Originally appeared: Thursday, March 24, 2011
Correction: Our independent curator was Mary Susan Weldon and the exhibit was sponsored by QSL Printing, Imagine Group, OPUS VII and The Duck Store.