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Art & Art History

Posters to Postage Stamps: An Exhibition of Contemporary Dutch Design

Wednesday, November 05, 1986–Saturday, December 06, 1986
Gallery 400
400 South Peoria Street, Chicago, IL 60607

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Posters to Postage Stamps: An Exhibition of Contemporary Dutch Design highlights over one hundred printed objects produced during the last ten years (1976-86) by a group of Dutch designers. These included Jan van Toorn, Anton Beeke, Wim Crouwel, Gert Dumbar, Ko Sliggers, and others. The material was of special interest to Chicago designers in particular because of the Modernist Bauhaus heritage shared by the Americans and Dutch alike. Stylistically, this work enlivens the simple typefaces and angular layouts, characteristic of early Bauhaus designs, with visual puns, commercial art techniques, and decorative patterns.

Dutch graphic designers, tougher and more socially conscious than their American New Wave counterparts, became trendsetters on the European and American art scene. This exhibition, featuring posters, stationery, catalogs, postage stamps, calendars, record jackets, magazines, brochures, and other printed items, documented the range and imaginative vitality of Dutch design. The exhibition mapped out the two poles of Dutch design in the mid-1980s: the rational, minimalist tendencies of Total Design, on the one hand, and the more radical, image-oriented work of Hard Werken, a Rotterdam studio, on the other. Posters to Postage Stamps also documented the taste-making role in the Netherlands of cultural institutions and the Dutch postal service (PTT): the “look” of museum catalogs, postage stamps, and banknotes was adopted by the private industry for advertising campaigns and corporate publications.

The core of the Gallery 400 show came from the collection of Katherine McCoy, Professor of Design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. The pieces from her collection were organized into an exhibition by Ms. McCoy and Doug Kisor of the Eastern Michigan University Department of Art (shown at Eastern Michigan University and Carnegie-Mellon University). Gallery 400 added further materials, a mini-exhibition focusing on the production of Hard Werken of Rotterdam, in consultation with Dutch designer Kees de Gruiter and Victor Margolin, UIC Professor of Design History. A poster designed by Hard Werken and produced by Gallery 400 publicized the show and extended the collaboration between the gallery and the design firm.

A lecture by Victor Margolin on contemporary Dutch design in a historical context complemented the exhibition, as did a talk by Katherine McCoy at the Graham Foundation.