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A Graphic Odyssey through Wim Crouwel's Career at the Design Museum in London
Wim Crouwel: A Graphic Odyssey at the Design Museum. Photo: Luke Hayes.
LONDON.- The Design Museum celebrates the prolific career of the Dutch graphic designer Wim Crouwel in this his first UK retrospective. Regarded as one of the leading designers of the twentieth century, Crouwel embraced a new modernity to produce typographic designs that captured the essence of the emerging computer and space age of the early 1960s. This exhibition, spanning over 60 years, covers Crouwel’s rigorous design approach and key moments in his career including his work for design practice ‘Total Design’, the identity for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, as well as his iconic poster, print, typography and lesser known exhibition design. The exhibition also highlights Crouwel’s rigorous design approach exploring his innovative use of grid-based layouts and typographic systems to produce consistently striking asymmetric visuals.

Born in 1928, Wim Crouwel studied fine art in Groningen before moving to Amsterdam in the early 1950s where he initially worked for an exhibition design company. Heavily influenced by architecture, Crouwel’s sense of spatial awareness and identity led to commissions for cultural institutions, most notably in 1956 for the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. Commissions for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam followed leading to Crouwel taking sole responsibility for the museum’s identity, posters and catalogues.

Whilst at the Stedelijk, Crouwel developed his unique grid system which acted as a museum template for its graphic identity, an approach which realised a visual consistency for the museum and in doing so defined a turning point for the world of graphic design.

The dawn of the space age and computer technology throughout the 60s encouraged new approaches and possibilities for typeface design. Embracing the mood of modernity, Crouwel designed a radical ‘New Alphabet’ typeface, especially for the use in emerging computer systems. The ‘New Alphabet’ designed in 1967 appeared almost alien, a cipher script of vertical and horizontal lines. This Illegible font challenged the design establishment and provoked debate, a debate which Crouwel was happy to
engage and openly admitted to placing visual aesthetics above function. The ‘New Alphabet’ was redrawn by Brett Wickens and Peter Saville for the Joy Division album, ‘Substance’ in the late 80s and then digitized and made available for use in 1997 by The Foundry. Crouwel designed a number of other fonts including Gridnik, an appropriate reference to his use of grid systems and Mr. Gridnik became Crouwel’s endearing nickname.

In 1963 Crouwel founded the multi-disciplinary design agency ‘Total Design’ creating the identity for numerous Dutch companies. Together with the founding partners, Crouwel shaped the visual landscape of the Netherlands throughout the 60’s and 70’s, working for clients such as IBM, and typeface commissions for Olivetti. In the 1970s Crouwel was part of a team of four designers who designed the Dutch Pavilion for the Osaka World Fair, Crouwel also designed numerous postal stamps for the Dutch post office and a controversial redesign of the telephone book using only lowercase letters.

Original sketches, posters, catalogues and archive photography are on display alongside films and audio commentary. In addition to celebrating Crouwel’s career this exhibition also explores his legacy and influence on contemporary graphic design with commentary from leading industry figures including Peter Saville and Stefan Sagmeister.

Six contemporary designers took inspiration from Crouwel’s career to produce a series of limited edition prints, a unique Wim Crouwel inspired wallpaper produced by Cole & Son is also sold exclusively in the Design Museum Shop. Manufacture Des Tapis De Cogolin and partner company Tai Ping produced a handmade rug reflecting Wim Crouwel’s ‘New Alphabet’ design, this rug is available to order from the Design Museum Shop.



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