Double Dutch Summer

If you’re in search of a primer on the recent history of typography and magazine layouts, get yourself to the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Through August 23, the AIGA hosts “Roadshow: Dutch Graphic Design 1990-2000,” just one in a flurry of Dutch design events taking place in New York City this summer.

By exhibiting Dutch graphic designers’ work from the last decade, the show presents some trends at work, such as the sudden urge to produce heavyweight books. Another trend of less heft, if perhaps wider application, is the move toward graphic simplicity, which Gabriela Mirensky, the AIGA’s director of competitions and exhibitions, describes as “an effort to make things as simple as possible,” some traits of which include “no layers and bold, flat colors.” This is something analogous to recent cartoon animation that, independent of sophisticated computerization, strips characters to their bare, two-dimensional essentials.

Mirensky points out that the biennial directory published by the BNO Association of Dutch Designers is a barometer of current themes. Dutch graphic designers are allowed to submit samples of their own choosing to the directory, and the casual observer can spot a few trends among them. Moreover, the design of the directory itself, seven minimalist books delivered in a bag, is cunning for both its simplicity and smartness.

Like every exhibition, Roadshow has a few weak points. For example, the special edition of “De toekomst die ons toekomt,” designed by Annelys de Vet, contains too many loose parts for the publication to physically hold together. And yet, there are far more highlights to count: Bureau Mijksenaar’s color-coded airport signs for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey direct lost sheep without increasing a terminal’s already dizzying visual clutter; Irma Boom easily moves from subtly pixilated, antique images to supersaturated graphics.

Added mention goes to Thonik. Its posters grabbed my attention upon walking into the AIGA’s gallery. Reminiscent of Russian constructivism, it only seems that tomato red will soon replace chartreuse or orange as the next “it” color. The firm’s “Het Beste van/The Best of Wim T. Schippers” is also brilliant, since the bilingual book arrives with green and red transparency sheets that work in a manner similar to 3D glasses. Depending on the sheet with which you read it, either the English or Dutch text appears.

Like so much contemporary Dutch design, even the less-recent graphic design on display at the AIGA is modernist without being overly intellectual, and wry without resorting to one-liners. And unlike the many Americans who blindly stay loyal to familiar, even anachronistic, design tropes, the boldness and expense of these works, not to mention the broad array of clients who commissioned them, bespeak a culture that isn’t afraid to identify with the new.

It seems only fitting, then, that summertime New York’s Dutch design events are almost too many to count. This fling with all things Netherlands began with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in May. To catch up on the debutantes’ ball, go to and for more.

American Institute of Graphic Arts, 164 Fifth Ave., New York City, 212-807-1990

Categories: Cities