“I strive to push the boundaries of design, the boundaries of possibility, in pursuit of the new, the surprising and the poetic, the profound and extremely beautiful. In a society that glorifies the disposable and inessential, I aim for my work to have substance and aesthetic power that stand the test of time.”

- Visnja Brdar

Currently showing at Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA, Visnja Brdar: Design Exalted is Australia’s first significant exhibition of a female graphic designer. Originally hailing from Geelong, Australia, Visnja Brdar’s vocational journey is transportive and far-reaching. Through equal parts resilience and determination, qualities she attributes to the profound freedom felt throughout her childhood and bestowed by Croatian émigré parents who filled her young years with a blend of grit, self-possession and creativity, Visnja has constantly followed her natural inclination to align herself with the pinnacle of design excellence. This attribute has given rise to a clarity of vision, evident in a career spanning over 37 years.

Visnja Brdar - Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Restaurant, Brand Identity.

Visnja embarked on her design journey at Swinburne University of Technology in 1988, where her early work showcased a mature and prescient understanding of design. Graduating in 1991, she was awarded ‘student of the year’ and, having rejected multiple job offers launched her own creative studio in Melbourne at the age of twenty-two. In the initial stages of her career, Visnja engaged in notable collaborations with design luminaries such as Marc Newson, Jenny Bannister, Chris Connell Design, Neometro and Tibor Kalman, as well as The Sydney Opera House, setting an influential tone for her trajectory in the field.

Her pursuit of design distinction inevitably drew her to New York, arguably the epicentre of culture, creativity and commerce, and the undisputed hub for branding and graphic design. Taking on the role of Art Director with Fabien Baron, she worked with prestigious brands including Michael Kors, Jil Sander, Giorgio Armani and Nars Cosmetics.

From Neometro's Archive featuring branding by Visnja Brdar.

In 2003, Visnja re-established her eponymous creative agency, BRDAR. Over the past two decades, operating from her New York base, she has collaborated with discerning clientele across diverse domains, including architecture, art, real estate, fashion and lifestyle, ranging from Estée Lauder, Bally, Paul Andrew to Zeckendorf, Norman Foster and world-renowned photographer Richard Avedon on an advertising campaign for Bill Blass. Her steadfast commitment to innovation, essentialism and modernity has firmly established her as a formidable and influential presence in the global design arena.

Visnja Brdar - Marc Newson Book Object in Sleeve

Curated by Hannah Mathews, Visnja Brdar: Design Exalted presents a chronological journey of Visnja’s work, beginning with two posters of disparate aesthetics that were completed in her final year at Clonard College, Geelong. The works firmly established her as a designer of meticulous execution, one who nurtured an innate understanding of the principles that govern art and design. Visnja’s exacting eye has ensured her work harbours a propensity to distil the essence of a brand into a visual identity of edited precision.

Moving through the exhibition, another early work completed when Visnja was 21 draws focus, the stoic yet fluid form of three bottles designed for Ceres. “Ceres strides unabashedly towards the 21st Century,” reads Visnja from the side of one of the bottles. “That’s just me.” This definitive statement rings true, summing up a personality that consistently bucks trends to, in her own words, “define new boundaries.”

As a designer whose works are exemplified by a masterful grasp of form and composition, the square is a motif that binds many of the works in the exhibition. Referred to as a “sacred footprint” by Visnja, the square is used as a tool to both command and contain attention, featuring in projects from the MAP logo designed for Chris Connell to square-based identities for Artefact, Susan Freedman and a striking collection of menu’s for Bennalong Restaurant, to a black box space that has been purpose-built for the exhibition within one of MUMA’s two pavilions. “I’ve probably done about 50 projects that feature the square,” says Visnja. “It appears a lot, starting from the first project.” This poetic continuation creates a subtle sense of the designer behind the works without compromising the fundamentals of the graphic language cultivated for the brands themselves.

Another design hallmark that slowly reveals itself as the works are absorbed is Visnja’s tendency to handle graphics to the extreme. Expressions are “extremely small, extremely difficult to do, placed extremely on the edge. There are a lot of extremities and interest in my work. You can enter my work and see a lot of formally interesting things and be delighted by them. These small things radiate with more power than most buildings.”

“I should have been an architect,” says Visnja, which begs the question, what would a Brdar building look like? “Well, it would radiate. There just isn’t enough beauty in the built environment. Imagine if I brought these qualities to a building…”

Visnja Brdar - Issey Miyake Publication, Tribeca New York

“Visnja is an Australian designer – but she’s also an artist and entrepreneur - with a distinct vision and ambition,” confers Doctor Rebecca Coates, Director of MUMA. “She’s been operating at the forefront of her field since establishing her own creative studio at the age of 22.

She’s worked with some of the world’s most recognisable brands with her expansive practice spanning fashion, architecture, product design, real estate and beauty. Running through it all - no matter the project or product - is her uncompromising commitment to simplicity, dynamism and independence.”

Visnja Brdar - Visnja Jewels, Power in Case

Visnja Brdar: Design Exalted, celebrates the evolving legacy of an important Australian female designer on the global design landscape. The exhibition forms part of 2024 Melbourne Design Week and features in the annual program of leading Australian design.

The exhibition is accompanied by the designer's first book, co-published by Monash University Museum of Art and Powerhouse Publications. Designed by Visnja Brdar herself, the publication positions her work within its Australian, international, design and broader cultural contexts, and features newly commissioned writing from design historians and writers Emily King, Sarah Medford and Denise Whitehouse.

“Existence is the greatest creative act. Life is the hugest blank canvas that screams out for definition. Imagine painting it white. Imagine leaving it blank. All I know is that I want to do things on my own and think for myself.”

- Visnja Brdar.

Visnja Brdar: Design Exalted is currently showing at MUMA until 15th June, 2024. Words By Tiffany Jade. Feature Image by Micaela Rossato.