AGI History in the 1950s
We Want You!
Jean Picart Le Doux became the president, Fritz Bühler and FHK Henrion were vice-presidents and Jean Colin became the secretary general. Jacques Nathan Garamond was the treasurer and his wife, Cathy, worked very hard for AGI in its first few years. Those efforts won her the title of honorary vice-president for life.
The founders and a number of ‘new members’ met again in London (1952), Paris (1953) and Basel/Zermatt (1954). In Basel they celebrated the very special local carnival, after which they travelled to Zermatt to enjoy a wonderful time in the mountains. This must have been the very start of a long AGI tradition: a General Assembly, a Congress and an interesting venue in which to enjoy them. In Zermatt a special committee was appointed to prepare and organize the first AGI Exhibition, held at the Louvre in 1955. Jean Carlu took over the presidency of AGI and was also in charge of the Paris exhibition.
‘Art et Publicité dans le Monde’ was the title of that first AGI exhibition in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on Rue de Rivoli. 74 designers from eleven countries took part, putting AGI on the world map. Numerous ministers and ambassadors from members’ countries attended the event. As was typical of the period, the poster was the dominating medium. Issue 58A of Walter Herdeg’s Graphis recorded the exhibition in detail. In addition to the members’ personal works, there were displays of work by AGI members for leading design-conscious companies such as Olivetti, Ciba and Larousse. Also in 1955, the Swedish designer Anders Beckman organized an AGI poster exhibition in the pavilions of the important design and industry show H55 in Helsingborg. Beckman created a city-wide corporate design programme for the occasion, in fact the first ever of its kind.
AGI chose to expand its early reputation with two more exhibitions in the following years. London was the venue in 1956, organized by Ashley Havinden and designed by F.H.K. Henrion. There were no governmental subsidies this time, but solid support from major international companies, clients of the AGI members.
A retrospective of the late Edward McKnight Kauffer (an American designer who had worked in England for most of his life) and work by the two Polish designers Jan Lenica and Henryk Tomaszewski and many Japanese, American and Italian designers gave this London show a more global spirit than the previous Paris exhibition, which was dominated by French and Swiss colleagues. In spite of the ‘local dialects’, this exhibition clearly demonstrated the common visual language of quality. London was followed by Lausanne, where the work of 67 AGI members was shown in 1957.
The 1959 Knokke AGI assembly, on the Belgian coast, was a kind of philosophical turning point. Jacques Richez was the host for 20 members. In addition to a day tour to the old town of Bruges, it was a meeting with serious discussion of major professional, social and ethical issues. This time it was not only the work itself that was in the limelight; in Knokke, AGI talked about the men behind the work. Jacques and Heiri Steiner made themselves heard, as they would continue to do throughout their many years in AGI. Heiri had produced a paper on ‘The moral mission of AGI’. The Alliance should, in his words, tackle its true task of acting as a trustee of our profession. He pleaded that designers should have an independent position and attitude because, when they join an agency, they are lost to the profession. Discussing young designers, he wrote: ‘It is important for them to realize that our work generates something of higher value and makes it possible for designers to participate more fully in life. We might also perhaps be able to contribute to the human society of the future.’