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'RBMBKESHKM': Good show, offputting name

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 16, 2010 - Recently, Bruce Burton left his post as graphic designer for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis to join a St. Louis design firm. As a parting gesture of sorts, he's curated an exhibition of outstanding contemporary graphic design for the museum's Front Room.

"RBMBKESHKM" showcases work by Roy Brooks, Mikey Burton, Kelly English, Sibylle Hagmann and Kindra Murphy, designers based more or less in the middle of the country, the "flyover zone" where people on the coasts often assume nothing is happening.

"RBMBKESHKM" (the title is a collection of the designers' initials) proves that there is a thriving design culture in the Midwest, beautifully represented in samples of books, posters, videos, collages, drawings and typefaces Burton has brought together. Real standouts are catalogs by Milwaukee-based Brooks; posters by Ohio native Mikey Burton (now located in Philadelphia); and the eclectic works of Minneapolis-based English, who employs high-tech processes as well as hand-crafted approaches.

What connects these designers, besides geography, is a clean, restrained aesthetic, a keen knowledge of design history, and a willingness to experiment and combine media. These are qualities possessed by Bruce Burton himself, an excellent designer and practicing studio artist who also clearly possesses a sharp curatorial talent.

Ivy Cooper, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon art critic.