AGI History in the 1970s
A Time of Consolidation
Donald Brun, one of the AGI’s five Founding Fathers, had taken over the chairmanship, the registered office moved from Paris to Zürich and the articles of association were re-formulated in accordance with the solid rules of Swiss law. That was all organized in a formal meeting in Ulm, in southern Germany, which, with its Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) had become the temporary capital of Functionalism. Unlike the Bauhaus, the link from modernistic theory to industrial practice had been fully made in the instruction at the HfG (1953–68). Based on the ‘dream’ of Universal Human Rights (UN: 1948), ‘all people are essentially equal’, the HfG focused on the Ideal Product, intended for Everyone. Design should not be for an elite public. Averse to all trimmings, it should simply work on the idea of ‘less is more’ and therefore be as accessible and affordable as possible.
New AGI memberships in the 1970s were only partly a reflection of ‘Ulm’ functionalism. And no wonder. Although functionalism was (and still is!) practised regularly in AGI circles, nowhere is it to be found in the biographies that anyone studied in Ulm. The condition in AGI’s selection policy that prospective members had to have proved themselves on the international platform was a delaying factor, certainly at that time. Most newcomers were at least in their mid or late forties. They had already acquired their functionalistic ideas much earlier. The AGI ‘harvest’ of this decade has nevertheless proved valuable. Many newcomers from those years formed a loyal hardcore of active members that survives to this day.After Ulm, it was planned to meet somewhere in Switzerland, although this did not work out. The next congress (1971) was held in Barcelona. Pla‑Narbona was an extraordinary host: in his vast private cinema, AGI members watched their friend’s religious documentaries in astonishment. The actual Middle Ages on celluloid. Once they had recovered from the shock, they set to writing the new articles of association for the AGI. The following year Henrion received an invitation from Hiroshi Ohchi to speak to his students in Tokyo. Henri took advantage of the opportunity to exhibit the work of all 9 British AGI members at the Tokyo Trade Center.
In 1972, Herbert Spencer became AGI President. That year’s congress was held in Amsterdam. Wim Crouwel played a major role in taking the AGI guests to the Stedelijk Museum, where he had set up an exhibition and introduced them to the works of art in Turmac’s Stuyvesant Collection. There were 80 participants (including guests) from 12 countries. The evening boat trip along Amsterdam’s canals and the reception followed by dinner in Amsterdam’s Historical Museum were the climax of the programme.
Jerusalem was planned for 1973, but the Yom Kippur War proved to be of higher priority to the young state of Israel. The congress was organized by Dan Reisinger and Jean David. Pentagram had prepared a thematic exhibition. In showing works from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, the idea was to make it clear what graphic design can do for international, national and local governments, politics, cultural and charitable organizations and education. It was not only a historical overview; the intention was to show the style differences and the breadth of activities. On one hand, the strength and unity of the ‘Swiss’ International Style came to the fore and, on the other, the personal, more painterly work of designers from Poland and Czechoslovakia. The exhibition was shown in Amsterdam, but ended up in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1974, after all, where it remained in the permanent collection, as a gift from AGI. Illustrative poster available from Reisinger!
In 1974, AGI travelled to Warsaw, on the occasion of the 4th Poster Biennale. The Polish capital had opened the first specialized poster museum in the world in 1968. Josef Mroszczak was the driving force behind that initiative. During the Biennial, there were special one-man exhibitions for the three winners in 1972. The company was then invited to Mroszczak’s dacha, somewhere in the interior of Poland. The coach got lost, meandering for four hours through the countryside. But it was certainly a memorable event! A major exhibition of the work of 107 AGI members was made possible by sponsor Olivetti. The show travelled from Milan (1974), via Brussels (1975) and Montreal (1976) to Stuttgart (1977). Franco Grignani wrote the foreword to the accompanying book. He identified a number of significant changes since the previous AGI exhibition in Milan, 13 years earlier. ‘This exhibition of communication graphics should be seen as the most complete and important in the world. It introduces a new character language, visible in numerous “exhibits” and various media: posters, logotypes, trademarks, advertisements, layouts, magazine design, stands, textile designs, etc. ...Yesterday, Cubism gave us a new concept of the synthesis of form. Today, it would appear, in its turn graphic design is inspiring free art. With the common denominators in their work and through their personal experience, 107 AGI members from the USA to Japan are setting objective rules for visual information and visualization. Naturally, it is not possible to make conclusive regulations for a field where discovery and innovation are such primary factors. But there is a practical basis, which derives its validity from its general acceptance. AGI has now become a platform for the exchange of professional experience and areas for concern. There is an awakening of the conscience of intellectual and social responsibility.’
The congress of 1975 started off in Athens and continued on to the Cyclades islands. The annals are rather vague on that point. Walter Allner took over the AGI chairmanship briefly, but stepped back within a year. Henrion was charged with the task of keeping the AGI ship afloat on the seven seas as interim captain.The Mediterranean was evidently in mode. The next AGI congress was held in Palma de Mallorca, in October 1976. We had had to say farewell to two highly praiseworthy members; Hans Schleger (who often signed with his pseudonym Zero) and Josef Mroszczak, the driving force behind Warsaw poster museums, had died.