The Stedelijk Museum celebrates the prolific career of the Dutch graphic designer Wim Crouwel, who designed all the graphic work for the Stedelijk Museum from 1963 to 1985. Crouwel is regarded as one of the leading designers of the 20th century. In addition to celebrating Crouwel’s career, this exhibition also explores his legacy and influence on contemporary graphic design. Wim Crouwel, A Graphic Odysseywas previously on view at the Design Museum in London and features work from the Stedelijk Museum’s collection and archive.
Wim Crouwel (b.1928, Groningen, the Netherlands) was inspired by the founders of modernism and developed unique typographic designs based on their principles. The exhibition, spanning over 60 years, covers Crouwel’s rigorous design approach and key moments in his career, including his work for the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, his design practice as part of Total Design, and the identity for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, as well as his iconic poster, print, typography and exhibition designs.
Crouwel studied fine art at the Minerva Academy in Groningen before moving in the early 1950s to Amsterdam, where he initially worked for an exhibition design company. He was very interested in architecture and developed a strong sense of spatial awareness. Soon this led to commissions for cultural institutions such as the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. When Edy de Wilde, director of the Van Abbemuseum, became director of the Stedelijk Museum in 1963, he took Wim Crouwel with him. Until the end of De Wilde’s directorship in 1985, Crouwel was solely responsible for the Stedelijk’s identity and for almost all posters and catalogues. While at the Stedelijk, Crouwel developed a unique grid system that acted as a template for the museum’s graphic identity, which created visual consistency for the museum.
Embracing the modernity in the 1960s, with the dawn of the space age and computer technology in mind, Crouwel designed the radical New Alphabet typeface in 1967, specially made for the computerized typesetting and composing machine. The New Alphabet appeared almost alien, a cipher script of vertical and horizontal lines. This illegible font challenged the design establishment and provoked debate, which Crouwel was happy to engage in, having openly admitted to placing aesthetics above function. The New Alphabet was reused by Brett Wickens and Peter Saville for the Joy Division album Substance in the late 1980s and then digitized and made available for use in 1997 by The Foundry. Crouwel designed a number of other fonts, including Gridnik, whose title refers to his use of grid systems, which also resulted in the endearing nickname Mr. Gridnik.
In 1963 Crouwel co-founded the multi-disciplinary design agency Total Design, creating the identity for numerous Dutch companies. In the 1970s he was part of a team of four designers who designed the Dutch Pavilion for the Osaka World Fair. Crouwel also designed numerous postage stamps for the Dutch post office and did a controversial redesign of the telephone book in the Netherlands, using only lowercase letters and placing the telephone number before the name.
In the exhibition, archival material will be on view—including original sketches, catalogues, posters, flyers, stamp designs, calendars, type design and photographic documentation—alongside films, such as a recent interview with the designer.
The exhibition is organized by the Design Museum, London, in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Guest curator: Tony Brook, co-founder and Creative Director of Spin, London
Curator, Design Museum, London: Margaret Cubbage
Curator, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam: Carolien Glazenburg
The exhibition is designed by 6a Architects, London; exhibition graphics are by Spin, London.