Tijdelijk Museum Amsterdam

Interview by Kwangchul Kim, GRAPHIC (Korea), quarterly Graphic Magazine 'Visual Identity Issue', spring 2010

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— Tijdelijk Museum Amsterdam project was initially conceived by yourself, not like other identity projects. Please introduce us the project un general, considering this difference of the initiative. (purpose of the project/objectives in designing its identity/applications with which the identity is presented)


The ‘Temporary Museum Amsterdam’ is the parallel programme to the annual art fair Art Amsterdam, since 2006. The floor plan of this imaginary museum is the entire city and the halls are made up by Amsterdam’s most prominent art institutes, like Stedelijk Museum, Foam and Appel Arts Centre. By means of design the imaginary becomes a temporal reality in an architecture that bears no walls, but establishes connections and meaning. Visitors of the art fair are provided with a free passe-partout that gives access to all ‘halls’ of the Temporary Museum. Each individual institute realizes extra programmes, like debates, openings, performances, guided tours, dinners and parties. Every edition an extended ‘Temporary Museum guide’ came along, including the programme, a map and critical articles.

The concept and design of this project was developed by myself, the initiative was effected in 2006 at the request of and in cooperation with Art Amsterdam and the Foundation Art and Public Space (SKOR). Its main sponsors are the Amsterdam Foundation for Art and SKOR.

— Please walk us through the overall structure of the identity.

Like the event, the graphic design is based on the idea of temporarity and has three main ‘pillars’. The map of the city, with only the collaborating art institutions as landmarks including the routes in between, forms the basis of the design. Although it’s perfectly detailed, it looks almost like a hand drawn sketch, as if someone has drawn his dream. All real facades of the institutions are hatched with white horizontal lines, hand painted. This is a strong eye-catcher and makes the visitor recognize immediately that he is still in the temporary museum. At the same time this horizontal hatching is the strongest visual element in all graphics, from the logo to posters and t-shirts. Type-designer Anton Koovit specially developed the stencil typeface ‘Adam’, which also became his graduation project for the master course ‘Type and Media’ (NL). The type has a unique character and although with monumental elements, it’s breading ephemerality.

All elements, from logo to website, from car to guide, are in black and white. And where possible only untreated materials are used and environmentally friendly paper. I’ve been very critical in what and how much we can use for a temporary event.

— What were the particular circumstances to be considered while you were creating the identity?

It’s a huge project, because of its many elements, collaborators, institutions and media, but at the same time only lasting for 5 days. So the design had to be clear and simple, immediately recognizable, able to be adjusted in very different circumstances (like the facades of the institutions and the TMA-terrace on Art Amsterdam, but also on posters, as a logo and as a printed passe-partout). Next to that, parts of it needed also to be easily adapted by collaborating institutions (imagine painting 15 facades on your own….) and not to mention the fact that there wasn’t much budget to execute everything. So much of the outcome is based on goodwill and enthusiasm of third parties.

— We could see that this project have been evolved over the years. How did the identity change according to each year?

The first edition I really needed to develop the concept of the ‘city as a museum’ and come up with a suitable design. For the institutions it was the first time collaborating in this specific context. So we all needed to figure out what this project potentially could be, also within the given low budget. As a result the focus was on the representation of the temporary museum. The following editions there was more space, also mentally, to deepen the content of the event’s programme. I started to think more and more what a project like the Temporary Museum means in a wider perspective. How does it relate to art production? What are the strategies behind presenting art? How can design conceive new relationships? How could graphics create an entity of a very fragmented reality? What new perspectives can design offer? These questions became starting points for additional programmes and design decisions.

— Please tell us about the design collaboration with your students on this project.

Last year, the temporary museum was not only connected to Art Amsterdam, but also part of  an art manifestation dedicated to the 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. The 2009-edition was for the first time designed by a third party; the Sandberg Institute’s master’s students. Since january 2009 I am head of the design department there, and collaborating in this project formed an exceptional way to work together on an equal level and to get very deep into the project. I had to redefine my position, which became more reflective, and the students developed their own concept, partly using the existing design-elements, but made their own statement with it. As you can imagine it caused many many discussions.

 Starting point for the research was Spinoza, who is said to have been the modern era’s first political thinker. He called himself a democrat and openly expressed his preference for the democratic state. According to him, the true state is one that offers liberty to everyone, even – or perhaps especially – those who think differently, practice other religions or express conflicting ideas. Some call Spinoza the founder of our democracy. 

Art is the ideal domain for those who think differently, for new ideas and untested forms. In this view,  the field literally makes space for democracy. This serves as the driving idea behind the design of the Temporary Museum Amsterdam 2009.

The students have responded to the contemporary hyperdemocracy in which politicians increasingly use power quotes and make populist statements to constantly demand attention from the public. In their designs, the students highlight this tendency by lifting arresting sound bites from their contexts and replacing key words with ‘art’ or ‘artist’. The result is startling sentences linking the idea of freedom of expression with the domain of art. Banners and posters graced the facades and entrances of contemporary art institutions in a temporary protest. Those institutions reflected whit their side programme on the field of tension between art and democracy, and organised extra events. The TMA sound installation was audible at numerous spots, with the latest international news processed through a filter. Suddenly, Iraqi artists were in combat... Alongside students also designed the TMA pass. They knew immediately that it should take the form of a bag. “The bag gives you free entry to all the institutions, which means that, in a sense, visitors are forced to carry it around, and therefore identify with the power quote on the bag,” explains one of the students. “There’s hardly any choice. We treat the visitors in the same way that politicians treat democracy. We force them to carry the bag – otherwise, they can’t get into the special taxi cars, or go to the institutions or parties for free.”

Altogether, the design became a unique one that evinces an ineffable tension. The students’ approach made the design real and unreal at the same time, both serious and at the edge of irony, political and beyond the political. It was a tension no designer could have achieved alone; its power lies in the sum of the different mentalities. The dialogue between the students continued in the design. It constituted a discussion about ‘democratic space’ as well as an invitation for visitors to look at art in this context and to take the conversation forward. In this decade of crisis, it is particularly important to emphasise what art and design can mean for public discourse and thereby for democratic culture.