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"Willem Sandberg" Tag

Scattered Matter

Sunday, October 27, 2013



ES Sandberg1


The picture shows a manuscript called ‘Lectura sub aqua’, part of the series ‘Experimenta Typographica’ from 1943 by Willem Sandberg.

Sandberg, a Dutch graphic designer, typographer and long term director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was forced to hide when the German occupation authorities discovered that he was involved in the resistance. While concealed on different farms, Sandberg produced graphic works out of the materials he found there – utilizing collected quotations – that correspond with his view of the world.

The chosen manuscripts states: ‘La propriété c’est le vol’ – property is theft. The slogan is a quote from the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudon, taken from his book from 1840 ‘What is property?’. Proudon was a French politician, largely considered to be the ‘father of anarchism’.

I find Sandberg’s manuscript an interesting starting point to ponder the relation between content and form. The repetition and graphical variations that he applies on the inherently strong political statement seem to point out the link between the visual appearance of the statement and its content. Moreover, I find it an compelling artistic choice to break down the phrase into a simplistic formula, eliminating all parts of the syntax apart from ‘propriété’ and ‘vol’, making the phrase into an undiluted juxtaposition of two nouns. I feel that the two words not only strengthen each other, but also get the message on a high conceptual level.

Sandberg’s work reminds me of some of the text works of Lawrence Weiner. Weiner started this conceptual artistic practice in the 1960′s/70′s utilizing brief phrases, statements or words combined in formulas put up on walls. I see quite strong analogies between the ways that the two creators employ typography as their medium, in spite of coming from different eras and creative practices. In the 1960′s and 70′s, when Weiner evolved as a conceptual artist, his work was considered extremely avantgarde. Looking at Sandberg’s work from 1943 gives me a new perspective on Weiner’s wall pieces.

ES Lawrence Weiner

As many of his statements manifest, Weiner is an artist strongly rooted in the present. At the event of the opening of his current solo show ‘Written on the wind’ at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Weiner stated: ‘Time is looking at the sky and realizing that it moves.’ I always enjoy making connections between art works from different eras or fields. Discovering references between Weiner and Sandberg was nice, because it points out once more that there is no inherent difference between ‘applied art’ and the so-called ‘fine art’ that Weiner would belong to, if you would obey those categories. I don’t know where that difference would lay. I find it intriguing that once one decides to devote time and attention to art, it becomes inevitable to realize that similar tendencies have been and are present throughout art history, also crossing between fine arts and applied arts. Artists and designers work on certain ideas and develop certain styles that keep influencing each other, while those ideas keep gaining visual, symbolic and historical meaning with every new era they enter.

One could say that Sandberg and Weiner share the way that they use language and – more specifically – typography as their medium. For some years, I have had a huge interest in the relation between the content and the form of an art work. To me, Walter Benjamin genuinely sums it up: ‘Beauty is not the object and not the shell, but the object in its shell.‘ The relation of the object and the shell is a very relevant question for myself and my own artistic works. If I was asked to chose one source of inspiration for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

The reason why I have chosen to compare the works from Sandberg and Weiner is my interest in the question how phrases change when their visual appearance is changed. What I like about conceptual art is its power lying in the mere thought. In 1968, Weiner manifested some view points on conceptual art in his ‘Declaration of Intent’: ‘The work need not be built.’ I can just agree with that. I can say that I find the relation between Sandberg and Weiner interesting with regard to the different fields they come from (applied art versus fine art), the different times and the different working methods. Both of the artists’ works inspire me to think about the relation of the content and the form. It furthers the understanding of Weiner’s work to hear him talk about it – e.g. the fact that he considers language sculptural. Weiner also states that his works are to be understood as gestures – which are immediately understandable, so they become language, too.

Weiner and Sandberg are interesting examples, because both of them chose for the immediacy of the language, while at the same time playing around with different colours and graphic variations. Also, by using language as a tool or medium, they put a concrete thought out there, which comes off as quite forcing compared to other media like painting or sculpture, while at the same time it leaves a large space for personal interpretations and associations. I like the directness of working with language, but also the openness.

Weiner always works with the same typeface – a very simple mono-space font designed by himself. As he states in this 2008 video: „I don’t like Helvetica, because (…) I find it a clumsy typeface. I don’t know if I find it clumsy because of its association or just aesthetically clumsy, but I try to avoid it.“ By creating his own font, Weiner avoids standardized visual appearances. His wall statements seem to get carried on to another level of visual meaning through the font they’re set in and to gain additional meaning by the way they are molded by their appearance. But even this typeface seems to be perishable, as the artist reveals: „It seems to be functioning for a while and I guess, one morning, I will wake up and it will have entered into the culture in such a way that I’ll try to find another typeface.

Beautiful Booklets

Friday, November 23, 2012

Willem Sandberg (1897-1984) was the man who made the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam what it is today. During his time as director the Stedelijk Museum became one of the most important museums of Modern Art. But not everyone noticed that right away. Sandberg got a lot of criticism during his years as a director. Besides director he is also a typographer, designer and many more things. At the moment a few of his works are shown in the Stedelijk Museum. For example his series of booklets called “Experimenta Typographica”. Later in this blog I will explain more about this piece, but in order to understand that the life of Sandberg must first be explained.

Sandberg was born in Amersfoort, the Netherlands in 1897. He grew up in a wealthy family and his dad wanted him to study law. Sandberg however did not, and so he went to an art academy, the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. He only studied there for a year because he didn’t find the teachers very inspiring. After this he did several things like visiting different countries, getting married, getting a daughter, taking a course Marxism, getting divorced, studying psychology and getting married again (to someone else). But his most important experiences during those years were the days he worked at a pressroom in Herrliberg. After this he became a graphic designer when he got back in Amsterdam in 1928. In 1936 he got a job as a deputy director of the Stedelijk Museum and started to design posters and catalogues for it.
But then the Second World War came. It was a difficult time for all and so there wasn’t much happening at the museum. Sandberg got involved in several illegal activities such as making fake identity cards. With some help he was able to make cards that looked like they were real. However, with the documents of the registration service it was possible to discover that the cards were in fact fake. A group of artists, including Sandberg, decided to set the register on fire to avoid this. This happened on the 27 of March in 1943. They succeeded to set the place on fire but all the artists were caught en killed later. Except for Sandberg, who was told in time by his wife that the Nazis were coming to search their house for him. Sandberg had to go into hiding for the rest of the wartime


These years were very difficult for him. He had lost all his friends, he was isolated, he had nothing to do and he had to be careful at all times. To prevent himself from going crazy he started to make booklets. In these booklets were illustrations, notes and thoughts. He wrote sentences down that inspired him. It was the only thing that could help him getting through these dark times. Making these booklets isn’t as easy as it seams. Because of the war he had almost no materials to work with. He had to be very creative to keep on producing so he used everything he could get his hands on. He used materials like old newspapers and cardboard, but also cigarette papers. Around this time he started to rip papers in order to create letters, this is a technique he also used in his later work, like the catalogues for the Stedelijk Museum.
He called the series booklets Experimenta Typographica of which some pages are now shown in the Stedelijk Museum. Unfortunately they’re showed behind glass, so there is no opportunity to flip through them. This is reasonable since the booklets are very valuable but it creates a distance between the work and the audience. So it becomes harder for the audience to get the feeling of these booklets. Therefore I advice you: go to the library and ask for the reproduction of the booklets. Only then you’re able to get inspired by it yourself. It’s beautiful how he creates so much with so little materials and a lot of time. This body of work explains why Willem Sandberg is such a remarkable figure. The work shows his creativity and attitude. It sets an example for every artist and shows how to create much with little in difficult times.


Sandberg – Charisma and Design

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

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The book Sandberg by Ad Petersen is a gate to the world of the graphic designer and director of Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam, Willem Sandberg. There is no other book that reveals so many things from his personal life and work. With his short introduction is getting our attention and keep us close to the book with our EYES OPEN.

Starting with Sandberg`s beginnings when he was experimenting with typography and the way he turned out his own handwriting with all the experience he had into a original trend which later is becoming so important, Petersen is diving deeper in Sandberg’s work. With a lot of verve he is writing about the way Sandberg was dealing with the space. So simple almost childlike but at same time so strong and with so much movement. Using only black and red ink, the strange choice for turquoise as a favorite, the specific brown paper and short writing with a rhythm of breathing, speaking and thinking in natural way, his design is standing out.

After a lot of pictures from catalogs and posters the author is introducing us another part from Sandberg`s life. His provocative role during the time of the World War Two and after, when he is becoming a director of Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.How after the war in such a bad conditions he manages to turn it into a new melting point for all new artists and people interested in art. The book discover how he with his forward looking  made Stedelijk what it is now. One of the most influential museums for 20`s century art. The only director who was doing the designs for the catalogs and posters for almost all the expositions that took place in the museum at that time. He changed the whole look of the Stedelijk with making the library totally accessible, opening a terrace, a restaurant, bringing new, airily and simple interior and modernizing the old museum building. As a person with a lot of artists and designer friends he made a very big art collections with a lot of paintings and designs. We can easily see that he was connected to the De Stijl especially to Mondrian. He had organized so much exhibitions for him in the Stedelijk and designed so many publications, but still Sandberg was thinking that  Mondrian was not understand in the way he should be, not as a wallpaper designer, nor furniture or architecture, but as someone who wants to set the painting free from the picture.

To let us understand why Sandberg was breaking the rules so often Petersen is writing about the role that Sandberg had in the War World Two when the left-handed, sickly boy who was stuttering is using the knowledge he had about typography to safe life’s and changes human destiny. That is the free expression in life that Sandberg learned home from his grandmother and mother. Using this while creating his work and the way that he lived we can see how the thoughts and the visions from the student of Academy for Fine arts, psychology and philosophy, the intellectual and person with strong social impact are coming out.


this post is part of he subjective library project "Unopened Book"
the book can be found at the Rietveld library : catalog no : -san-6

A group’s researched book-concepts

Monday, March 10, 2008

TM-City SMCS Warhol_Index TM-City SMCS

After many month we finally present the research results into 25 selected books from the “Collections Groenendijk”. During a one-hour event every student was presented with the opportunity to start-up a research into the manifest art or design concepts presented in these unique book designs. Designers Julia Born and Will Holder were presented through an interview-DVD made by the graduate program of the “Werkplaats Typografie Arnhem” for the Chaumont festival workshop 2005. Others projects, by Richard Niessen or Andy Warhol, were presented at an visit to the Stedelijk CS, where their books were displayed in context. Coralie Vogelaar (a Sandberg Master) came to visit us in person to give insight in her work and ideas and lecture on the concept behind her latest publication “Masters of Rietveld: design in the 21st Century” published recently by the Sandberg Insitute /Design [above: Niessen TM-City / Warhol Index-Book

A New Art World
Caetano de Carvalho on “A New Art World” by Richard Niessen + Ad de Jong

Research material was edited down to A4 sized guided tours into these subjects. All subjects presented in this list are also available as hard copy prints at the Research Folders at the library. The investigation focussed on the following book titles: Ed van der Elsken’s “Love Story in St Germain“, Irma Boom’s Grafisch Nederland 2005 on Color, “Start A New Art World”(published above), the acclaimed cooperation between photographer Geert van Kesteren and designer Linda van Deursen “Why Mister Why“, “Hhalo” by Julia Born and Rebecca Stephany’s “Archiving Today”project. Last 3 ladies all teaching at graphic design department.

SpoerrieThe ThingThe Thing Norm design Swiss TypeS M L XL

Daniel Spoerrie “An Anecdoted Topography of Chance“(extra info), Dieter Roth’s “Dieter Roth Band 10“, “S M L XL“by Koolhaas, Sandbergs “Experimenta Typographica“: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano and “Counterprint” by Karel Martens. “The Thing” by Norm designstudio, Andy Warhols classic 1967 “Index-Book”, Will Holder’s “Catalogue“: starring Gijs Muller, Edward Ruscha’s “Colored Peolple”, Richard Niessen’s piece de résistance TM-City.

Why Mister Why GN2005:Color

Sandberg Institute Master: Coralie Vogelaar with “The Photoshop” and “De Hedendaagse Ontwerper”, Gerald van der Kaap’s original ” HoverHover” and the monumental cooperation between Jonathan Barnbrook and Damien Hirst “I want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now”.

Dot Dot Dot X Hester Permanent Food 15

Finaly some highly conceptual magazine concepts like, the 1980′s I-D magazine 2, Jop van Bennekom with Re-magazine: ‘Hester‘, Permanent Food or Stuart Bailey’s “Dot Dot Dot” magazine.

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