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For Modernists only: An ode to Dutch design since De Stijl


rom 16 June through 1 October 2017, the Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam run a stunning exhibition ‘Modernism: In print’. It was the first retrospective exhibition of modernism in Dutch graphic design, almost a century after the birth of the art movement De Stijl. The exhibition showed for the first time a retrospective of Dutch graphic design as created under the influence of De Stijl and the international avant-garde.

The exhibition featured printed matters and unique items from the archives such as original sketches and designs to show how modernism visually dominated our daily life for a long period and in a wide variety of graphic forms, ranging from corporate styles and posters to postage stamps and photographic books.

The designers featured included Piet Zwart, Dick Elffers, Jurriaan Schrofer, Wim Crouwel and Experimental Jetset. With international handbooks, type specimens and key works from such designers as El Lissitzky, Jan Tschichold and Karl Gerstner, Modernism: in print added context to the Netherlands' contribution to modernism. The exhibition was curated by Mathieu Lommen and designed by Studio PutGootink, which also made a visual essay based on the selected designs.

On top of that, in the adjacent UvA HeritageLab, graphic designer Hanse van Halem (1978) – the new main designer for the Lowlands festival – run her own comments on modernism under the title "Hansje van Halem: in patterns." A designer of books, decorated papers, stamps and especially posters - the latter are silk-screen or risograph printed- Hansje van Halem experiments with letter forms and patterns, often a combination of the two and moves between autonomous and applied art.

In addition to graphic work she creates designs for public and semi-public spaces. A striking new project in public space is a 350 m. long poem by K. Michel in East Amsterdam. The steel-cut letters balance on the verge of legibility and explore the line between letter and ornament.

In "Hansje van Halem: in patterns" she provides a response to Modernism on the basis of existing and new work. Modernism unconditionally rejected the ornament and favored the use of white as a dynamic element. Van Halem’s psychedelic patterns ignore this stark minimalism without any effort. 

Her work seems to continue the Victorian tradition of the ‘horror vacui’: everything is loaded with wonderful detail. The exhibition ‘Hansje van Halem: in patterns’ featured patterns rich in contrast.