Towards the end of 2015 the graphic designer and exhibition designer Wim Crouwel was honoured with the publication of a new and comprehensive monograph. With his agency Total Design he was instrumental in shaping the face of the post-war Netherlands – and that is definitely not an exaggeration. His modernism not only informed countless posters and catalogues for the Stedelijk Museum but also led to postage stamps and experimental work, including an extraordinary and controversial computer alphabet. In the seventies Crouwel found himself much criticized, but his fame as a cult figure and inspiration to many has more recently risen to new heights.
The abundantly illustrated Wim Crouwel Modernist has the stature of an informative overview and avoids the trap of becoming hagiography. ‘But does the modest format do the man justice?’ the panel wondered at first. The cover too aroused somewhat mixed feelings, with its glaring dayglow yellow-green and rather aggressive colouring. The dotted motif – is it a kind of noticeboard? – is taken over into the interior as a guide. The vast volume of archive material has been brilliantly squeezed into the book – ‘the whole thing is beautiful’ – as has the use of the typewriter face he designed for Olivetti that would much later be digitized as Gridnik (originally a nickname for Crouwel himself, as we read on the very first page). (The Vierkant face used for the cover is also a Crouwel design.) Not only are the illustrations and posters perfectly printed, but the text with its exaggerated contrast between black and white is also something of a typographical tour de force.
One comment from a panel member: ‘Why are his thoughts on design at the end of the book? Have Crouwel’s ambitions been woven into the main story properly?’ Nonetheless, this book offers the reader and spectator an almost encylopedic experience which designer Lex Reitsma has cast in well proportioned chapters.