AREA 17’s identity for National Gallery of Canada represents their move towards decolonisation
Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada is home to the largest contemporary collection of indigenous art, alongside the country’s greatest collection of national and European artworks. Addressing the systemic and cultural shifts around the globe, and the subsequent recognition of their colonial history, the National Gallery have sought to decolonise their museum and amplify new, previously stifled voices over the history prominent narratives that came before.
In light of this more inclusive, progressive and enlightened stance, the National Gallery of Canada turned to New York and Paris-based design studio AREA 17 for a new identity to truly reflect this refreshed outlook, process and presentation. This included the use of the Algonquin word ‘Ankosé’ – translating as ‘everything is connected’ – that was used as the driving force behind the identity. Similarly inclusive and representing the inclusive range of voices shared, the identity is fundamentally flexible, acting as an ever-changing system that utilises gradual colour, earnest typography and an evolving wordmark devoted to the shift between Western and Indigenous world views – demonstrated in the form of permeable circles and squares.
“Having a logo in two languages is not common and represents multiple typographic constraints,” AREA 17 tell us, “it seemed all the more important to us to associate to the wordmark with a visual impact,” they add, “and perfectly readable symbol that could serve as a link between the two languages.” The typeface used to carry these sentiments is Founders Grotesk, chosen for the innate contrasts within its unique architecture. “It is at once timeless and contemporary, iconic and accessible, and geometric and human,” AREA 17 explain, noting the balance it achieves between personality and neutrality, and the ability it has to scale; resulting in the use of a single weight across the identity. “We were also very interested in the width and rhythm of the Founders Grotesk letters,” they add, expressing how the typeface complementary sits next to the gallery’s symbol.
Continuing the theme of inclusivity, AREA 17 opted for a maximalist selection of gradient colourways, showcasing a varied array of palettes that span the colour wheel. “The use of colour gradients, as well as shape morphs, serve the same purpose,” AREA 17 explain, “creating links,” and in doing so connecting shapes, type and graphic elements to compose pragmatic yet exciting compositions. Consisting of eight colours, AREA 17 conclude that “while each colour in our palette can be used by itself, it can also be combined with another colour to form a pair and a gradient,” with the choice of which colours to be used being determined by the specific situation it is in, and the images associated with it.