News — 20 Sep 2019

Wim Crouwel, one of the most important post-war graphic designers, of national and international fame, died on the 19th of September at the age of 90.

Wim Crouwel and the Stedelijk Museum enjoy a long-standing relationship. In 1963, when Edy de Wilde exchanges the directorship of the Van Abbemuseum Museum in Eindhoven for that of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, he asks Wim Crouwel to join him as sole designer of the museum’s graphic identity. The two work together until De Wilde’s departure in 1985, throughout which time Crouwel not only creates the Stedelijk’s visual communications, but some 400 posters and over 300 catalogues.

Wim Crouwel is trained by the graphic designer Dick Elffers, runs his own design agency between 1954 and 1957, and works with interior designer Kho Liang Ie from 1956 to 1960. The oeuvre that cements his fame, standing and reputation is his work for the Stedelijk Museum, that he considers the most notable client of his career. Although he believes that a graphic designer must defer to the message and not interpret its content, in his work for the Stedelijk, we see exceptional variety despite his systematic approach. He evokes the work of the artist, selects reciprocal colors and, with the aid of a sans-serif font, creates a minimal, streamlined aesthetic.

Following the example of Swiss designers, Wim Crouwel uses a system: a grid structure that serves as a design template, as can be seen in the poster and catalogue he designed for the 1968 exhibition Vormgevers.

This system enables him to approach design objectively, an attitude he robustly upholds. And earns him nicknames such as ‘the system general’ and ‘Mr. Gridnik’. It is thanks to this objective and systematic approach that he is able to create such a large body of work for the exacting museum. He works for the Stedelijk during his time at Total Design, the multidisciplinary design agency he co-founds in 1963, and the creative engine behind the house styles of countless organizations and corporations such as Rabobank, Teleac, De Doelen and Auping.

Throughout his life, he is a fervent believer in taking a rational approach to the subject and believes neutrality is integral to the task of the designer. Which routinely leads to discussions within the profession. He never avoids debate, but remains true to his principles. His experimental New Alphabet in 1967 and design of the new Dutch phone book in 1977, created with Jolijn van de Wouw, prove controversial. In 1979, Filatelie magazine dubs Crouwel’s postage stamp – which incorporates his Gridnik font – the ugliest postal stamp ever designed. They remained in circulation for over 25 years.

Wim Crouwel often acts as spokesperson for the graphic design profession: as committee member, jury member, professor, chairman and director. He joins the Industrial Design Department at TH Delft as a lecturer in 1965 where he teaches for twenty years, before serving as professor from 1982-1985. He is a professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam from 1987 to 1993. His last position is that of director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1985-1993). Wim Crouwel is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, in the Netherlands and worldwide – last summer, he was honored by his professional peers in New York with the prestigious Award of the Type Directors Club Medal for lifetime achievement.

Two monographs on the oeuvre of Wim Crouwel have been published: Mode en Module in 1997, authored by Frederike Huygen and Hugues C. Boekraad, and, in 2015 Wim Crouwel Modernist by Frederike Huygen.

The Stedelijk Museum exhibits his work twice, in 1979 and in 2011. Crouwel curates and designs the exhibition concept of the first show, and also produces an extra bulletin. In 2011, the Design Museum in London and the Stedelijk Museum co-produce the exhibition Wim Crouwel: A Graphic Odyssey which opens in London before touring to the Stedelijk Museum.

Wim Crouwel’s work can be seen at the Stedelijk as part of the permanent collection exhibit STEDELIJK BASE.

In 2017, the Stedelijk, also custodian of the Wim Crouwel archive, collaborates on an exhibition that opens to huge success at two venues in Kyoto and Tokyo in Japan. A modified version of this exhibition with the title Wim Crouwel: Mr. Gridnik is on view at the Stedelijk Museum from 28 September 2019 to 22 March 2020.

The Stedelijk Museum mourns the loss of an exceptionally gifted and extremely loyal friend and passionate ambassador for design.

Everyone is welcome to leave a personal memory on the in memoriam website for Wim Crouwel, via crouwel.stedelijk.nl

Go to in memoriam website

Note for editors: 
for more information, please contact Marie-José Raven at the Stedelijk Museum Press Office: +31 6 – 139 150 60, m.raven@stedelijk.nl.
Carolien Glazenburg, curator graphic design at the Stedelijk Museum, is available for comment.