William Drenttel | Essays

I (still) Love Amsterdam

I have been in Amsterdam for the past week and I'm always reminded when visiting what a vibrant design community exists in The Netherlands. Here are some highlights:

I was invited to The Netherlands by the Prince Claus Fund for their annual awards ceremony — in the Royal Palace, with Queen Beatrix and the three princes, Prince Willem-Alexander, Prince Friso and Prince Constantijn very much in attendance. I have been at many conferences and ceremonies over the years, but I have seldom been among such a truly international audience, with invitees from over 50 countries. I was struck by the degree to which the awards honored work on some edge of politics and cultural engagement: it is hard to imagine an award for literary and cultural publishing by an otherwise obscure Algerian organization winning such a prestigious cultural prize in America, much less the variety of journalists, bloggers, filmmakers, artists or architects who made up the other prize winners. After fifteen years at the helm of the Prince Claus Fund, there was much recognition for Els van der Plas before she moves in January to run the Dutch design and fashion organization, Premsela.org.

On another evening I attended a dialogue about the current state of Dutch graphic design precipitated by an essay by Rick Poynor in a Dutch design annual (republished on Design Observer here). Many came out to argue against Poynor's naming of specific studios and the malaise of marketing as the source of all evil. Interestingly, there was a front row crowd of grey-haired gentlemen (Gert Dumbar, Jan van Toorn, Wim Crouwel, etc.) who seemed happy to suggest, by their unified attendance, an earlier standard of quality. But it was a public dialogue about design that is hard to imagine happening in New York or London, even as the same criticisms might seem apt.

On my last day, I was invited to an amazing conference, "I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I Want To Be There," sponsored by the Graphic Design Museum of Breda, The Netherlands, and organized by Sophie Krier and Mieke Gerritzen. Snow kept the English (Alice Rawsthorn and Fiona Raby) from attending, but the Dutch participatants were strong all day long. Presentations by Lust, Thomas Lommee and Erik Kessels were especially noteworthy. DJ Spooky and Stefan Sagmeister were great additions to the Dutch mix.

I will write about one of the other talks — by Daniel van der Velden about WikiLeaks — in a separate post.

Posted in: Graphic Design

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* "Dumbar" misspelled. Correction made. Thank you.

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