David Quay reviews Type/Dynamics: Jurriaan Schrofer/Lust

Category: Opinion

Jurriaan Schrofer exhibition review

Courtesy of the Stedelijk museum

Currently running at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam is an exhibition of one of my design heroes, Jurriaan Schrofer (1926–1990). Schrofer was a pioneer of postwar Dutch graphic design, along with Total Design colleagues Ben Bos and Wim Crouwel.

I found this exhibition bitterly disappointing. The recent long-awaited book on Schrofer’s work by Frederike Huygen has been years in the making and is superbly written, illustrated and designed. It is published in two editions, Dutch and English. The book is one of those gems, almost on a par with Wim Crouwel’s Mode en Module and shares the same book designers, Karel Martens and Jaap van Treist.

The subsequent exhibition currently running at the Stedelijk is a disaster. Lust, who were chosen because of their ‘innovative approach’ to exhibition design, have relegated Schrofer’s work to mere decoration, treating it as incidental to their own egos. Is cramming Schrofer’s work into a few cheap, wooden glass-fronted boxes really innovative? Lust’s visual wallpaper overwhelms the gallery and further diminishes the importance of Schrofer's inspirational work. In my view this approach shows total disrespect to the master himself, whose work should be the focus of the exhibition.

Schrofer’s professional practice spanned all genres – from publicity material to house styles and from magazines to advertising and typography. His photography books are particularly noteworthy. Shown here is some of Schrofer’s work for museum catalogues taken from my own collection – in my opinion they are classics, but unfortunately they were not included in the Stedelijk’s exhibition.


Schrofer’s name might not be as well known as that of Crouwel or Bos, but his work deserves to be seen in context and treated with the same respect. Thank goodness that Frederike Huygen’s book has been published, let’s hope it will help to inspire a new generation of designers.


I received a comment about my review from Frederike Huygen – the author of the book on Jurriaan Schrofer. With her permission I am posting the content of her email here as a blog comment (without corrections). She says – I read your review on Schrofer. I completely understand your disappointment on the exhibition about Schrofer... (and by the way, thanks for the compliments for my book). To begin with, it was already a miracle that the Stedelijk was able to make some room for this exhibition, because at first it was out of the question, and neither were there possibiities at the Bijzondere Collecties. Anyway, it was Carolien’s decision to involve Lust and she chose to establish a dialogue between Schrofer and some young designers. So, the connection between Schrofer’s pre-computer-work and the work of computer-designers. This, I think, was not a bad decision at all and an interesting concept. (revitalize history) Schrofer’s work does, in my opinion, also raises a problem: what is it’s value as an oeuvre... some things have the danger of becoming a mere trick. He did develop a strong idiom, but as I also say in the book, this is ornament and decoration as well. I myself do not have any objection to treating it as such. The wallpaper is a good way to show his work. In other words, how to present Schrofer the best way is difficult; that is why I chose to present him (in the book) via different themes and roles. There is a small mistake in your review: The Museumjournaals are not catalogues, but a journal/magazine, and Schrofer was alas not the creator of these fabulous covers, but Jan van Loenen Martinet and another guy from the Stedelijk. Anyway, I do not want to sound defensive, and your opinion is valid... Personally I am glad that this exhibition was realized at all.

Posted by David Quay on 9th January 2014 at 01:40pm

Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless Typographer (from the design studio Spin’s Unit Editions) is another appalling treatment of this fantastic designers work. In this book the images are overprinted with page numbers and captions despite a tall format and plenty of room to make a thoughtful and intelligent layout, which should be a celebration of the man’s work not an opportunity to be self indulgent and thoroughly annoying. It seems that fashionable designers can’t deal with (or match up to) Schrofer’s beautiful, experimental work.

Posted by Andy Gossett on 7th January 2014 at 07:05pm