To celebrate Wim Crouwel’s 80th birthday, the Van Abbemuseum and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam are looking back on the period during which, in his capacity as graphic
designer, he designed catalogues, posters, invitations and the letterhead for both museums. In 1956, the then director of the Van Abbemuseum Edy de Wilde gave Crouwel an initial commission that resulted in a successful partnership that was continued at the Stedelijk Museum in 1964. Crouwel’s designs became legendary and remain a source of inspiration for young designers to this day.
As an ode to graphic designer, museum director and professor Wim Crouwel, the organisers have put togetheran intimate exhibition with posters and catalogues from the early years of his oeuvre. In addition to this printed matter, the exhibition also comprises a selection of correspondence and work plans, offering a glimpse behind the scenes of museum practices in the 1950s and 60s.
(Design : Lex Reitsma)
Wim Crouwel’s career
Wim Crouwel (Groningen, 1928) studied at the Minerva Academy in Groningen between 1947 and 1949. He then went to Amsterdam, where he became a student under Charles Jongejans at the Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs until 1952. His first job was with a company that designed and built exhibitions. He started his own firm in 1954.
1955–1956 : Liga Nieuw Beelden
When the Liga Nieuw Beelden was established in 1954, Crouwel was one of the people who signed the founding manifesto. A key task for the Liga advocated in this manifesto was the organisation of ‘demonstrative exhibitions’: “demonstrative exhibition is a joint work by architects, non-affiliated artists and designers that illustrates the ideas that are prevalent in our society.” The Liga’s second task was to stage discussions between urban planners, architects, artists and designers […] “and everyone who takes responsibility for the spiritual and physical shape of tomorrow’s world.” In 1956, he started working with interior architect Kho Liang Ie, carrying out assignments for the furniture industry and the graphics sector.
1956–1971 : Van Abbemuseum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
In the 1950s, the Van Abbemuseum professionalised under the directorship of Edy de Wilde, who became one of Crouwel’s regular patrons, asking him to design the museum’s posters, catalogues and letterhead. This partnership continued after De Wilde transferred to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1963, and Crouwel was also commissioned to make the designs for the Stedelijk Museum and Museum Fodor. The virtual carte blanche he was given allowed him to complete his first high-profile experiments with letter shapes. Examples are the catalogues and posters for the Léger (1957), Hiroshima (1957), Bazaine (1958), Lurçat (1959), Fernhout (1963),
Michaux (1964), Vormgevers (1968), Oldenburg (1970) and Luchtkunst (1971) exhibitions.
1963 : Total Design
In 1958, Crouwel’s design for the Benelux pavilion at the Brussels World Fair received the Leopold II award. In 1963, Wim Crouwel was one of the founders of Total Design, the first agency in the Netherlands that was active in design in the broadest sense of the term. In an early statement they described their objective as follows: “Our work is determined for the most part by working with text and image, object and space. Drawing signs and letters. Forming word images. Processing texts typographically. Making numbers understandable. Designing signposts. Visualising processes. Depicting intentions. Developing spatial situations. Structuring visual materials. All this is intended to simplify human interaction, increasing the chances of communication.”
1963 : New Alphabet
In response to the technical limitations of the first computer-controlled typesetters from 1963, Crouwel designed his ‘New Alphabet’, a font with only horizontal and vertical lines. Lithographic printing firm De Jong devoted an issue of its ‘Kwadraat-Bladen’ series of magazines to this ‘New Alphabet’. Crouwel did not design his alphabet for book typography specifically, but believed that people could get used to “new shapes of new alphabets and new forms of typography.”
1970 and onwards
He won international acclaim with his design for the Dutch pavilion at the World Fair in Osaka in 1970. In 1973, he became an endowed professor and in 1981 professor at Delft University of Technology. In 1981 he accepted the directorship of Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, combining this job with a professorship in art and cultural sciences at Erasmus University in the same city.