We had an interesting discussion last night with the MCICH Network of the Royal Society of Arts about the role that graphic design plays in the construction of a museum’s graphic identity, pioneered, as in so much else by Alfred Barr at the Museum of Modern Art, who included graphic arts in the course he taught at Wellesley in 1926-7 and paid close attention to the design and production of all the museum’s publications. My book is set in Futura, a sans serif typeface designed by Paul Renner some time between 1924 and 1927 when he was director of the Frankfurter Kunstschule typography department and first issued by the Bauer Type Foundry in 1927 as ‘the typeface of today and tomorrow’. It was the typeface used by the Museum of Modern Art in its series Documents of Modern Art, first issued in 1943. Apparently, ‘Barr’s zealotry was reflected everywhere in the museum, from the signs in the bathrooms and the catalog typography to the lapidary wall labels’, sending memoranda to members of staff about the colour, placement, shape and legibility of the museum’s building signage.
Then, Alice Rawsthorn reminded us of how Willem Sandberg, the director of the Stedelijk Museum from 1945 to 1962 had been trained as a graphic designer and devoted his attention to all aspects of the museum’s communications – street signs, posters, the museum’s journal and particularly catalogues. As she writes in her book Design as an Attitude, ‘If any designer can be said to personify design as an attitude, it is Willem Sandberg. As director of the Stedelijk Museum on Amsterdam from 1945 to 1962, Sandberg not only established it as one of the most dynamic cultural institutions of the postwar era by championing new movements in art, and introducing design and photography to the collection, he also discharged an unofficial tole as its graphic designer. Working late into the night and scribbling under the table at board meetings, he designed hundreds of exhibition catalogues and posters as well as all of the Stedelijk’s stationery and tickets’ (pp.17-18).