Designing for a Designer

Rock & Roll! Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art | Fashion is arguably the most visually captivating exhibition in the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields’ history. The moment you step into the exhibition, which features more than 60 ensembles and accessories by fashion designer, Stephen Sprouse, you are transported to a New York City nightclub scene. Black lights and neon LED strips illuminate orange and green Day-Glo graffiti in the designers’ recognizable stylized handwriting, mirrors hang above painted cabinets, giving the illusion you are in a grungy club bathroom. Punk music is playing. You haven’t even technically entered the exhibition yet, and the stage is set.  

Rendering of South Vestibule Vanity Wall. Graphic Designer: Allison Bowers 

How objects are displayed is a significant consideration when Newfields develops an exhibition. The art always takes center stage. Curators make a “checklist” or a list of must-have items and artworks for a show. In this case, Niloo Paydar, Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts selected the items that are featured. Then, she worked with exhibition and graphic designers to create a physical atmosphere that compliments the works in the exhibition. They consider the floorplan and decide on appropriate groupings—what works together from a historical perspective, and what makes them visually appealing. “I always think of how our guests are going to move through the space, I want them to see something across the room and be enticed to move towards it,” Lara said.  

Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art | Fashion showcases 11 groupings, organized chronologically from early 1980s designs and planetary inspirations through Keith Haring collaborations, a wall of shoes, Warhol inspired pieces, and finally ending with Sprouse for Target, Louis Vuitton, and Knoll, all displayed in a stunning space, designed with a designer in mind.  

Curatorial Assistant, Lauren Pollien, recalled initial brainstorming sessions for Rock | Art | Fashion and said the general sentiment in the room was, “All of these clothes can stand on their own, this is a perfect opportunity to do something fun, do something wild.” Allison Bowers, the Senior Experiential Graphic Designer who designed the two-dimensional graphics for the exhibition added, “Great design depends on the exhibition—in some cases that can mean clean and minimal, but in this case, it meant big and bold,” and continued with, “personally, I love Sprouse’s designs and aesthetic, so it was a dream to design graphics for this show.” 

Installation view of Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art | Fashion in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery, July 16, 2022–April 2, 2023.  Artworks © Stephen Sprouse. 

Exhibition Designer Lara Huchteman worked with Allison Bowers to glo-crazy with Day-Glo paints and blacklights in the entry and exit vestibules, neon colors throughout, and graphics designed from Sprouse’s personal Polaroids to make the exhibition extra special. Lara and Allison honored Sprouse’s commitment to innovation by taking risks in their own designs, Allison said, “We wanted to design something that felt deserving of being in the same space as his amazing clothes.”  

Three-dimensional pieces, like clothing, are considered more challenging to display than a two-dimensional exhibition, because the objects are intended to be viewed in the round, or from every angle, which added an extra challenge for the designers. They had help from many other experts including Amanda Holden, Senior Textile Conservator, and Emily Freese, mount maker, and Carol Cody, lighting designer, to ensure the ensembles are shown in their best light.  

Rendering of the exhibition design for Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art | Fashion in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery, July 16, 2022–April 2, 2023. Exhibition Designer: Lara Huchteman

With this exhibition, it is impossible not to be enticed onto the next grouping—it is fresh, fun, and imaginative. So, when you visit, take it in, and don’t hurry through because you’re so excited to see the next thing. Participate in the drawing activity about halfway through the exhibition organized by Maggie Ordon, Interpretation Planner, to be a place of pause and reflection, and to put your creativity to work designing your own Sprouse inspired patterns. Snap a selfie as you leave, and if you look closely, you’ll notice it’s a mirrored image of the entry space, but in different colors. On your way home, stream the Spotify playlist that was rocking in the exhibition.  


Lead support for Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art Fashion is provided by Target, Absolut Vodka and the Jan B. Rubin Art Exhibition Fund. Generous in-kind support is provided by RALPH PUCCI International, KCD PR, and Louis Vuitton. Additional support is provided by Amy Curtiss Davidoff and David Phillips.


Installation view of Stephen Sprouse: Rock | Art Fashion in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Special Exhibition Gallery, July 16, 2022–April 2, 2023.  Artworks © Stephen Sprouse. Graphic Designer: Allison Bowers Exhibition Designer: Lara Huchteman.