• Steven Heller

Willem Sandberg’s Maverick Typography

Willem Sandberg (1897-1984) was a typographic maverick until the day he died. Much of his most signature work were catalogues and posters, often designed in the evenings and weekends. Sandberg was the director of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum from 1945 to 1962, and his association with the local state printer “produced an identity that transformed the museum into one of Europe’s first truly modern galleries,” noted Simon Garfield in The Guardian newspaper. He rejected “the traditional dark and hushed rooms and creating something bright and accessible, a place of social interaction.” And this held for the graphic design that for two decades typified the institution.

“He was a late starter and produced the majority of his work in his late forties,” wrote Petr Bil’ak Starting in 1945, when he became the director of the Stedelijk museum, until 1962 Sandberg designed almost all the printed matter for the museum (over 250 catalogues and 270 posters). Additionally, he was an active member of countless institutions, committees and advisory bodies – unusual for a director with executive and administrative duties. Sandberg transformed the Stedelijk physically as well as conceptually, modernized its spaces, initiated construction of a new wing, expanded the collection and introduced many new ideas into the often stuffy world of museums.

Sandberg directed exhibitions of American and European artists, including Picasso and Pollock, and made sure that Kandinsky, Mondrian and Schwitters were included in the collection. “He spoke of how he was primarily interested in an artist’s character; only through character could he determine whether they would make great things in the future or retreat into repetition.” His directorial skills were recognized internationally.

Sandberg spent several years in the mid-60s establishing the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and he was on the design committee for the Pompidou Centre in Paris when it appointed architects Richard Rodgers, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini in 1971. But it is his typography that also stands the test of time as presented here, it looks as fresh if it were done today.

His museum work would be career defining enough, but his typography and lettering, unique color combinations and expressionist design makes him one of the leading 20th century masters of art type.

Catalog cover, 1973.

Piet Zwart 80, 1965.

Cover for the Journal Musées Néerlandais, 1963.

Experimenta Typografica 11, 1956.

Experimenta Typografica 11, 1956.

Cover for the catalogue de la Biblioteque due Stedelijk, 1957.

Expérimenta Typografica 11, 1956.

Texte Amendé “NU 1”, 1959.

La Nouvelle Aile du Stedelijk, 1954.

Texte et illustration de “NU 2,” 1968.

Texte et illustration de “NU 2,” 1968.

Symbols for le Musée d’Isreal a Jérussalem, 1964.

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