The Designer-Agent: Jan van Toorn at Van Abbemuseum, 1964-1973

Anusia Grennell

In this dissertation, the work of designer Jan van Toorn at Van Abbemuseum is examined in terms of its relation to a field of practice called institutional critique. It is argued that in collaboration with museum director Jean Leering the graphic designer succeeded in producing a body of work that, upon reflection, affirms the designer’s role within the field of the museum, particularly in terms of this critical practice.

For the purposes of this dissertation, I investigate examples of institutional critique and identify 5 key features with which to build a framework to analyse a selection of the graphic design products of the museological collaboration between van Toorn and Leering. This analysis finds that the designer’s work for the museum embodied these features of institutional critique. It is reasoned that van Toorn identified with this critical practice and employed a similar critique in his designs for Van Abbemuseum in an effort to widen the self-reflexive capacity of institutional graphic design, and ultimately, to help form a more culturally and socially responsible institution and public.