This past summer, as I awaited my appointment as a Walker Art Center design fellow, I was fortunate enough to travel throughout the Netherlands. I visited such places as the Nijhof & Lee bookstore and the Stedelijk Museum CS in Amsterdam, as well as the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (a combination of places that any design nerd, like me, would appreciate). My final (and favorite) destination brought me to Rotterdam, a city known for its distinctive modern architecture, the architects who are based there (i.e., Rem Koolhaas and MVRDV) and its institutions that are dedicated to architectural development, such as the NAi (Netherlands Architecture Institute).
Unfortunately, my time in Rotterdam was quite limited and I only spent a little over 24 hours in the city. Despite this, I did make it a point to visit the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (MBvB) in Rotterdams Museumpark.[fig. 1]
As a graphic designer, I was particularly interested in touring this museum because I was aware of the fact that Armand Mevis and Linda van Deursen had, in recent years, created a new visual identity for the museum. The identity, which is primarily typographic[fig. 2], is subtly displayed throughout the museum, never speaking too loudly. Admittedly, another reason for visiting the MBvB was because I had learned that Wim Crouwel was the museums director from 1985 to 1993. Of course, I wasnt expecting to see his work, but the thought of seeing where one of the greatest Dutch graphic designers had spent 8 years as a museum director was certainly not stopping me from attending. I also found it intriguing that Crouwel had surpassed the more familiar role of the design director to become the leader of the entire museum.
As for the rest of my visit to the MBvB, I was very impressed with their diverse collection of art. Much of the museum housed medieval paintings, while its recent and contemporary expansion was dedicated to a collection of modern art. It was here that I discovered my favorite work from the museum in Nick Roerichts Stackable tableware TC 100.
By the end of my visit to the MBvB, I had collected over a dozen different print materials that were branded with the MBvB aesthetic. In terms of type and the institutional need, many of the pieces are no different to the materials designed here at the Walker. And while considering that I am now immersed in the practices of applying and creating identity material for a contemporary museum, the conversation of how the Walkers house style compares to that of the MBvBs and other museums from around the world seemed pertinent to this new blog on design.
Shown above [fig. 3–4] are just some of the printed materials I collected from the MBvB. As told by the credits on the back of many of these pieces, the Dutch design firm Thonik has since taken the reigns from Mevis and van Deursen in further establishing the museums identity. Visibly bolder and relying less on subtle typographic hierarchies, Thoniks designs for the MBvB have demonstrated the extremes to which a museums identity can evolve. In comparison to the Walker Expanded identity, which was conceptualized as an identity that could either subside or intensify depending on the context of the project, Thoniks solutions seem to lack this distinction. Could it be that they have overemphasized the multiple layers of the custom-designed typeface? Or have they understated the relationship between type and image?
1. A synopsis of Mevis and van Deursens creation for MBvB is explained in the following excerpt from Angus Hyland and Emily King, Visual Identity and Branding for the Arts (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2006), 113:
…its core component is a custom-designed proprietary font (digitized by Radim Pesko) that is loosely based on Lance Wymans multi-layered identity design for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In the case of Wymans font the repeated outlines of the individual characters referred to motifs in Mexican folk art, but in this instance they are a metaphor for the museums new wrap-around building and the curatorial structures expressed by this architecture.
2. Crouwel addresses the challenges of being the director of a major museum in an interview with Michael C. Place for the Creative Review Blog (CRBlog). The following is an excerpt from Striking The Eye: An Interview With Wim Crouwel, posted on July 10, 2007:
Michael C. Place: When you became director [of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum] you were then the client. Did you take anything from your time as designer for the Stedelijk that helped you in commissioning design for the museum?
Wim Crouwel: Oh, yes. I adopted many of the same techniques – of critiquing after and dealing with the curators on behalf of the designer. I had 15-20 years of experience working as a designer which I wanted to bring to my role as director. Sandberg, the director [of the Stedelijk], was a practising typographer and when we had meetings he always had a ruler and was drawing type. But when I became a director myself I found it was difficult to manage the responsibilities of director and be as involved in the design as I would have liked, so I hired two people to work with me. My brief to them was not work with my grids but rather make the Institute visible through a series of catalogues and posters for the museum. After a period of time we looked at the work as a set, and found that is was quite mismatched, it did not seem to have a single voice. So, I had to think how to address this…
To read the full interview, visit: Creative Review Blog
3. Like the Walker Art Center (and many other newly renovated museums for that matter), the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen has recently undergone an expansion that was completed in May of 2003. The expansion is a complimentary and modern addition to the classical architecture of the museums original building.