CROUWEL, WIM. Karel Martens, Jaap van Triest [Designers]: WIM CROUWEL: MODE EN MODULE. Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010, 1997.

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WIM CROUWEL: MODE EN MODULE

Fredericke Huygen and Hurgues C. Boekraad

Karel Martens, Jaap van Triest [Designers]

Fredericke Huygen and Hurgues C. Boekraad, Karel Martens, Jaap van Triest [Designers]: WIM CROUWEL: MODE EN MODULE. Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010, 1997. First edition. Text in Dutch. Quarto. Thick French folded printed wrappers. 432 pp. Fully illustrated in color and black and white, with elaborate graphic design throughout. Spine slightly stressed, but a fine copy.

6.875 x 9 softcover book with 432 pages devoted to the lifes work of Dutch Graphic Designer Wim Crouwel. Features numerous essays, a comprehensive biography, chronoly and bibliography. All work presented in a strictly chronological order. A graphic Design monograph that has achieved legendary status in the nearly twenty years since publication.

Allow us to quote at length from Wim Crouwel: mode en module: a review by Robin Kinross from Typography papers: “The Crouwel book, as it was often referred to, was issued only in a Dutch edition, which sold out quickly. Since then, Wim Crouwel’s renown has only increased. Most recently his work has been celebrated in a major exhibition (at the Design Museum, London, 2011, and on show from this month at The Lighthouse, Glasgow); in The Hague he has been awarded the Gerrit Noordzij Prize (2009, with an exhibition following in 2012). ‘Wim Crouwel: mode en module’ is now something of a fabled work, with large prices asked for second-hand copies. Given the continuing absence of an English-language edition of the book – which would surely be a tough translation, editorial, and production job, as well as an expensive one – this review may be worth resurrecting, as a marker of a moment in the discussion of graphic design.

“Wim Crouwel is one of the notable Dutch graphic designers of his generation. In his leading role in the firm of Total Design (hereafter ‘TD’), from its foundation in 1963 through to the 1980s, Crouwel worked at the heart of Dutch design in the years when this phenomenon began to crystallize and to gain international recognition. If one applies the test of design for the national airline, it may be some measure of Dutch cultural reticence that around the time of the sharp upswing in the post-1945 prosperity – from 1958 – the new identity for KLM (‘Royal Dutch Airlines’) was designed at F.H.K. Henrion’s studio in London; but soon such jobs would go to TD. For example, from the mid-1960s this young firm was at work on the signing for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (designed by a group under the direction of partner Benno Wissing), and thus TD’s lowercase-only sanserif typography contributed to the first impressions of the country for anyone flying in. (The calm interiors at Schiphol – still surviving, although the signs are now being replaced – were designed by Kho Lang Ie, with whom Crouwel had worked in partnership in the 1950s.) And from 1963, after the retirement of Willem Sandberg and the accession of Edy de Wilde, Crouwel and TD became designers to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum: both a local municipal institution and by then an important component of the international art scene . . . .

“By the 1970s, TD seemed to be acting out all the meanings of its title, not just the ‘cross-disciplinary’ implication. From early on in his career, as part of his own ‘total’ approach to his profession, Wim Crouwel has sat on committees and juries, delivered addresses and lectures, written articles, and held academic positions (notably at the Technische Hogeschool Delft). This tireless public work reached its apex in 1985 when he took up the directorship of the the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.

“In 1993, aged 65, Wim Crouwel retired from his position at the Boymans Museum. In advance of this, early in 1990, Frederike Huygen, then curator of design in that museum, began to make plans to write and produce a book about Crouwel. It would mark his retirement, not with a simple celebration, but rather with a sophisticated and critical discussion. It is remarkable that Wim Crouwel should have put himself and his archive – then acquired by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam – at the disposal of the researchers, with no strings attached, no attempt by him to interfere or control: this unusual willingness to become the subject of a critical experiment helps to explain the nature of the book that was finally made.

Wim Crouwel: mode en module attempts something new: to document and discuss at length and with full historical and critical consciousness the work of a living graphic designer. Even dead and safely ‘in-the-past’ graphic designers have not yet received this treatment. By comparison with the present book, other monographs are slight affairs or, where less than slight, tend to be overblown and uncritical. On a first encounter with it, the Crouwel book certainly gives an air of thoroughness: a solid squat paperback, weighing 1250 gm, pages packed with text and many photographs, a seemingly exhaustive illustrated catalogue of work that extends to almost 200 pages, a lengthy ‘biographical overview’, full bibliography, two indexes. The design of the pages tends to agoraphobia, with very narrow margins and column widths, and notes to both pages on a spread placed in the far left column of the left page. But the book’s marvellously strong and flexible binding lets this work: pages can open out flat, providing a single field of information.

“It has to be said that the book over-eggs its information-provision. Where anything can be strung out and put in sequence, then we get that list – lovingly shaped by the book’s designers, Karel Martens and Jaap van Triest. Thus the list of ‘literature consulted’ (writing that impinges on the themes of the book, but which may well not impinge directly on Crouwel’s work) is given twice: alphabetically – this might be useful – and chronologically as part the ‘biographical overview’ – which is information as decoration. In fact the design of these ‘overview’ pages reinforces this decorative aspect, by setting the bibliography in a lighter weight of type, so that it recedes visually, and by reprising photographs used in the main body of the book, but now given in percentage tint and run wallpaper-like behind the text . . . .

“. . . The firm of 010, the publisher of the present book, has until now been essentially an architectural publisher (founded in 1983, it is one of the brightest and most productive in the world). 010 has recently initiated a ‘Graphic Design in the Netherlands’ series of monographs, to be funded by the Prins Bernhard Fonds, a principal conduit for state subsidy of Dutch cultural production (architecture and design, as well as ‘fine art’). This would seem to follow on from their long-running ‘Monographs on Dutch Architects’ series. 010’s catalogue for 1997–8 announces the first book of the series: Otto Treumann by Toon Lauwen. The Crouwel book is also announced there, and described as a ‘foretaste’ to the series of monographs, but not part of it. Though also largely financed by the Prins Bernhard Fonds, Wim Crouwel was produced outside the brief of the new series, was published in a different format, and acquired by 010 only very late on in its production; and, as already explained, it struggles against the terms of the genre.

“If Wim Crouwel belongs to the international culture of design (the Alliance Graphique Internationale, and so on), and if his work belongs to what has been the graphic ‘uniform’ of quite a large sector of the Western world, he is also very much part of a particular national culture. This book is itself a hefty chunk of this culture, in its images and text, and in the exemplary industrial craftsmanship of its production. As Frederike Huygen details in her foreword, it was made with the help of a set of subsidies from state bodies, in addition to the Prins Bernhard Fonds support. Only, one supposes, in the Netherlands, where design is still taken to have social-cultural value, could such a book have been made.

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