Liberty & Laughter provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lighter side of the presidency. Entertaining first family anecdotes, interactive guessing games, presidential debate “bloopers,” media clips of impersonators, amusing artifacts, political cartoons, custom caricatures and an interactive humor quiz explore how presidents have intentionally or unintentionally used humor to deal with the stress of the job and to communicate more effectively with the public.
The graphics are characterized by primary colors, super-scale type, dot and hatch patterns and bold, black line work, giving the exhibit the feel of a walk-thru comic book. The repeating phrase, “Humor is…” is completed in varying way in four galleries. “Humor is…EXAGGERATION” introduces the notion of caricature and serves as title for a wall of bobbleheads. At Droll Domination, “Humor is…for disarming your opponents” hovers above an illustrated boxing ring with one-liners from presidential debates suspended overhead. At Mock President, “Humor is…a sense of humility” describes video clips of presidential impersonators, each accompanied by a presidential mask so visitors can attempt their own impersonation.
All four galleries are tied together by the Pursuit of Happiness walkway, a carpeted runner with caricature pedestals “awarded” to the most humorous presidents and first ladies. The categories — printed on the carpet border— include Wittiest Wisecracker, Master of Mischief, Most Deadpan, Goodest at Gaffes, Quickest with the Quip, etc. The parting experience, Matching Wits: Find Your Mirthmate, uses a Buzzfeed-style quiz to match visitors with a president that shares their sense of humor.
Howard+Revis Design was hired both to curate and to design and build the exhibit. As curator, the challenge was to strike the right tone for the presidential humor presented within the exhibit — witty but not silly, biting but not mean, not too high brow, no low blows. As designers, we were presented with a difficult gallery configuration which could not be altered and a very low budget, even for a temporary exhibition.
Since this exhibit was to open in a presidential election year, we avoided the temptation to feature President Trump. We also tested the exhibit content with various audiences to make sure that the material was in good taste, but not gutless.
Our design strategy was to dissolve the high walls of the four galleries with superscale typography and high-key color, rendered in paint and vinyl to meet the tight budget. We also employed ready-made, off-the-shelf exhibit components, customized with our graphics, to keep down costs.
Due to the pandemic, the exhibit was open to the public for less than a week. However, the project did receive a 2021 Award of Excellence from Communication Arts. Additionally, the client has plans to restage the exhibit in 2022.