Nickelodeon partnered with FITCH to create a global brand experience that elevated the brand’s SpongeBob Squarepants character to pop-icon status, and increased his cultural reach with fans who may no longer be watching him on cable television.
Capitalizing on SpongeBob’s cache with fashion and celebrity icons such as Marc Jacobs and Justin Timberlake, FITCH decided to create a traveling art exhibition, translating the squeaky clean character’s essence into unexpected and surprising works of art for fans of all ages.
“Nickelodeon wanted something very new and different that would look at SpongeBob in a very fresh way. They were interested in how SpongeBob has become an inspiration for artists and fashion icons. The idea of a high-end art aspect of SpongeBob was the inspiration. We wanted to do a high-end MoMA type exhibit for SpongeBob,” says FITCH design director Ryan Brazelton.
The design team started out by mapping out a tone of voice and mood for the install. The exhibition is international, debuting in Moscow and recently opening at its second stop in Geneva, so FITCH knew it didn’t have to be tied at all to the American view of the character. Designers also didn’t want to design something necessarily for kids, but for everyone.
“We knew that the kids and fans would get it, but we wanted to do something really different for people who weren’t familiar with SpongeBob,” Brazelton says.
In order to do something different with the character and his story, FITCH created museum-quality art pieces that embodied the wacky character. The craftsmanship on the sculptures had to be impeccable. They are crisp, sharp and clean, and the level of fit and finish is very high.
The biggest challenge facing the project team was timing—more specifically, a lack of time. “We started out not knowing when it was going to be installed, but we knew the design documentation time, which was two months. It was incredibly tight. When we got to that point, they told us that we had another two months to have everything built and in Moscow for the debut. But we made it happen, and it was a miracle,” Brazelton says.
Producing museum-quality art pieces for a touring exhibit in short order was not easy, and all of the pieces had to have a level of craft that spoke to excellence and quality. Fabrication partner TivoliToo brought the sculptures to life for FITCH.
All the final paint schemes had a matte, light satin finish that could be contrasted with glossy frames. A matte white sculpture coming out of the matte white wall was contrasted with a giant SpongeBob image printed on acrylic that was bright and incredibly glossy. “Having the duality of various materials brings a new level of dimension to it,” Brazelton says.
The European venues raised a separate set of challenges for the design team.
“The two other big considerations were size and weight, because things like doorways are a lot smaller and narrower than here. We didn’t have the luxury of huge loading docks for semi trucks. Shipping agent Ceemless Air Corp. pulled of the shipping details for us and did an incredible job,” says FITCH client manager Romano Klepec.
But designers did manage to have some fun bringing the underwater cartoon icon to life in ways that had never been done before.
“It was a lot of fun, different than doing a typical retail space. We didn’t have to sell anything, it was really a gesture to the character and the fans to just celebrate it. It’s very different from a typical project—very fun to design this space,” Brazelton says.