More Dramas at the Stedelijk Museum
A lack of strategy might be the most delicate way to describe the sudden decision by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to ditch graphic designer Pierre di Sciullo. He has spent the last year working in preparation for the much anticipated museum reopening.
The Stedelijk Museum is the most important modern art museum in the Netherlands and has a rich tradition of graphic design starting with director/designer Willem Sandberg, who established the museum as a famous temple of modern art in the years directly following World War II. He then handed the baton over to designer Wim Crouwel who continued this tradition into the 1960s.
“A personal tragedy,” is how Di Sciullo describes what has happened in a distant and downtrodden voice. “It shows complete disrespect for me and my work,” he says.
The decision was made by the new museum director Ann Goldstein who took office this January. She inherited Di Sciullo who was selected one year ago by a jury under the previous director, Gijs van Tuyl.
“I’m not surprised by this outcome at all,” says Armand Mevis, one of the Dutch designers who participated in the original competition that Di Sciullo went on to win. “We have such a strong graphic tradition in the Netherlands and a lot of people including me were disappointed that by selecting a foreigner it would all come to an end. This of course has nothing to do with the quality of Di Scullio’s work.”
Dutch entries into the competition were obvioulsy “not good enough,” says Gerard Hadders, who coordinated the competition as advisor to former director Van Tuyl. "And why the focus on Dutch?" asks Hadders. “Earlier designers of the Stedelijk house style worked in a European context. Nobody spoke about Dutch Design.”
At the time, the jury gave a glowing appraisal of Di Sciullo’s work saying he operates at “the highest artistic and intellectual level” and provides an “inspiring and vital alternative to the formalism of various late modernist styles.” Van Tuyl said at the time of choosing that “his mentality is closest to where we want to go at the Stedelijk.”
In an email to people involved in the process, Goldstein says she has “a different vision of the visual identity and branding of the Stedelijk.” The question now is what that vision is going to be. Enthusiasm for Di Sciullo was because his work represented an alternative to modernism whereas Goldstein is a diehard supporter of modernism.
Speculation abounds that what Goldstein most wants it to build on the museum’s modernist heritage. One insider Design.nl spoke to only half joked by saying, “She probably wants to reappoint Crouwel.”
Goldstein’s decision to sever ties with Di Sciullo has been openly criticized by Dingeman Kuilman, director of Premsela – Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, and one of the members of the jury that selected Di Sciullo one year ago.
“A museum can handle its own design in two ways,” said Kuilman in a recent interview in de Volkskrant. “It can be neutral and try to just serve art, or it can present itself as an author. For the Stedelijk we preferred a typography that would manifest itself, that spoke out. The expressive design by Di Sciullo fits the tradition and image of the institute because ‘speaking out’ is exactly what past director Willem Sandberg did and what established the institution’s reputation.”
Kuilman went on to criticize the way in which Di Sciullo has been treated saying a public institution deserves a public discussion. “But the sacking of Di Sciullo has been decided behind closed doors,” he said.
Di Sciullo’s design was “too complicated” for Goldstein, says designer and filmmaker Lex Reitsma, who has followed the whole selection process for a documentary to be aired on Dutch TV. “It’s too arty, too experimental and not practical for her. It would be in the tradition of Sandberg and the Stedelijk to do something new, but she didn't want that.”
Running alongside this controversy is the messy renovation process the Stedelijk Museum is stuck in. It closed its doors on January 1st 2004 and has not yet reopened. While there have been exhibitions at other locations, previous director Gijs van Tuyl never hosted an exhibition in the actual museum during his tenure from 2005 to 2009. In 2007 he initiated the process to select a new house style and the plan was to reveal this during the scheduled reopening in 2009, but neither the building nor the house style were ready when Van Tuyl retired on December 31st of last year.
Max Bruinsma, editor of Items magazine refers to the whole ordeal as a major strategic mistake that will lead to a loss of creativity. “The whole process is Byzantine,” he says. “There’s no idea of continuity or strategy and I don’t know why they even started this process when people already suspected the opening would be delayed.”
When accepting the job, Goldstein accepted a work in progress. Observers agree that she is eager to organize things her own way, like the content of the opening exhibition. Art circles in Amsterdam will be following her work critically. “The Stedelijk makes connections with other disciplines and is in a dialogue with society,” said Kuilman about his expectations. “It provokes.”
By dismissing Di Sciullo Goldstein has certainly provoked some people, and wasted an enormous amount of the tax payer’s money.
Main image: an early version of Pierre di Sciullo's graphic identity for the Stedelijk Museum
Front page: Ann Goldstein
Image 1: Pierre di Sciullo
Image 2: Wim Crouwel
Image 3: Armand Mevis pictured with Linda van Deursen
Image 4:Dingeman Kuilman
Image 5: Lex Reitsma, photography: Michel Campfens
Image 6: Max Bruinsma
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