Exhibition — Sep 25 until Oct 31, 2021

In collaboration with the Stichting De Best Verzorgde Boeken, the Stedelijk Museum presents the best Dutch book designs of 2020. In this exhibition, 33 books are valued by a professional jury based on design excellence, printing and binding techniques, and the collaboration between designer and client. In addition to the 33 books chosen by the jury, there are two more firsts this year: for the first time, the exhibit includes publications picked by the student jury, and the Stedelijk added books that owe their existence to the lockdowns, and combines this with work by Willem Sandberg.

*During the exhibition Kirchner and Nolde. Expressionism. Colonialism (running until Dec 5, 2021), there’s an additional one-off surcharge of €3.

Waiting for the Sibyl by William Kentridge

The book in the era of the pandemic  

Submissions this year featured a striking number of pandemic-related publications. Some created out of necessity, such as a book in place of an opera that could not be staged (Waiting for the Sibyl by William Kentridge, edition Koenig Books, design Oliver Barstow) or as an outlet for creativity that had no other form of expression, such as Quarantine uitzicht by Noortje Haegens, (edition Komma, design Michelle Sipers) and Corona Drawings by Iris Bouwmeester (published by Atelier Bouwmeester, design Studio Pepijn Zwart).

152 by Victor Sonna

The pandemic also inspired stunning exhibition catalogues; during lockdown, they were often the only opportunity for art lovers to enjoy museum exhibits. Examples include Victor Sonna: 152 (published by Van Abbemuseum, designed by Bardhi Haliti) and You Know I am Not There, featuring drawings by Danielle Lemaire inspired by the life of Nick Drake, published by The Eriskay Connection. 

The jury notes a preference for the playful use of fluorescent inks, print runs in silver and/or white on black or dark paper, coloured page edges and flexible books. 

Photo books 

Another highlight of this year’s edition was the number of photo books which, given the current travel restrictions, offer a window onto other people and places. Take, for instance, Invisible, which immerses you in the hypnotic underwater landscapes of Nicolas Floc’h, or the photos of Ari Marcopoulus in Conrad McRae Youth League Tournament that transport you to a street playground in Brooklyn (both designed by Roger Willems, Roma Publications). Marcopoulus’ book won the Silver Medal in the prestigious international contest Schönste Bücher aus aller Welt 2020. 

Conrad McRae Youth League Tournament by Ari Marcopoulus

The photo reportage Touki – Voyage à Dakar follows Judith Quax and her then four-year-old Dutch-Senegalese son Noah, as they cross the Sahara to Dakar in Senegal, in an old Mercedes. Published by Lecturis, the book’s design, by PutGootink, captures the rawness of the journey.  

Another trend spotted by the jury, was the return of woody types of paper and a profusion of textured covers. 

Touki – Voyage à Dakarreis by Judith Quax


Another exciting trend this year was the emergence of a relatively young and talented generation of international graphic designers, most of whom trained in the Netherlands, such as Lu Liang, Rudy Guedj, Marius Schwarz, Sam Reith, Dongyoung Lee, Jan-Pieter Karper and Bardhi Haliti. Their innovation and cultural diversity echoes today’s social and cultural richness, bringing fresh energy to the book trade.


Thomas Castro, curator of graphic design at the Stedelijk, pointed out that some books owe their existence to the coronavirus pandemic: “We’ve given special attention to an intriguing selection of ‘COVID-19’ publications dealing with or created because of the extra time presented by lockdown. These books recall other designs that sprang from turbulent times, such as Experimenta Typografica by Willem Sandberg, the series of booklets he produced while living in hiding during the Second World War. Although Sandberg, forced into hiding to evade the Nazis was in a very different, far grimmer situation, and our lockdown experience pales by comparison, both attest to the ingenuity of their creators, who found solace in making books.”

You Know I am Not There by Danielle Lemaire
Invisible by Nicolas Floc’h


De Best Verzorgde Boeken has a long tradition at the Stedelijk. The first edition took place in 1932, after which (with a few interruptions) the exhibition has been held every year. It is the oldest annual competition of its kind in Europe that is judged by an expert jury.

The jury for the 2020 edition consists of Carine van Wijk (director Gottmer Uitgevers Groep), Michaël Snitker (graphic designer), Martijn Kicken (advisor Drukkerij Tielen), Yolanda Huntelaar (graphic designer) and Thomas Castro (curator Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam).  

The student jury consisted of Doğa Deniz Gönüllü (ArtEZ), Esmée Jakubowski (HKU), Juliette Lepineau (Gerrit Rietveld Academy), Lulu van Dijck (KABK) and Nina Schouten (Workshop Typography). 

The exhibition concept is designed by Paul Kuipers. Most of the books can be purchased in the museum shop, along with the catalogue specially published for this exhibition, (Tessa van der Waals designed the catalogue of the expert jury; the designers of the student jury’s catalogue were Doğa Deniz Gönüllü and Maryse Poels (ArtEZ).

The Best Dutch Book Designs is made possible by ASF, Pictoright Amsterdam, paper supplier Igepa Nederland, Tiel and L. van Heek Textiles.  
BNO is a long-term partner.