The AGI, established over 60 years ago, has had a significant impact in shaping contemporary commercial arts. Here’s how it all began.

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      • How it all Began
        —We Want You!
      • 1954–59
      • In the 1940s, commercial artists, mural makers, typographers, printmakers, art directors, illustrators and poster designers increasingly realised their common bonds, and the modern profession of graphic design began to be defined. In 1951, five graphic artists—two Swiss and three French—decided to formalise their relationship into some sort of association. Their idea was simply to share common interests and friendships across national and cultural borders.

        It was a notion that soon attracted leading exponents of the graphic arts from elsewhere in Europe and in the USA. In 1952 the Alliance Graphique Internationale was incorporated in Paris with 65 members from 10 countries. The first AGI exhibition was held in Paris in 1955 and in 1969 the headquarters moved from Paris to Zurich. Student seminars were introduced in 1979 and the first Young Professional AGI Congress was held in London in 1994.

      • 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.

      • The Golden Era
        of the AGI
      • 1960–69
      • The Alliance had also established its ‘way of life’: an annual congress, somewhere in one of the ‘member states’ and regular exhibitions in major cities, in museums of high standing.

        The congresses were on the theme of justifying the role and significance of visual communication. The discussions were primarily about philosophy, responsibility and ethics. Initially, an air of ‘advertising’ still clung to the profession: my own evening course (1956–61) at the Applied Art College, later the Rietveld Academy, in Amsterdam, was entitled ‘Advertising Design’. In practice, the assignments set by lecturers such as Wim Crouwel and Peter Doebele had hardly anything to do with it; they were more about graphic design.

      • The 1960 congress was held just outside Paris. Fritz Bühler, AGI president, wrote in a foreword: ‘One of the first questions raised in the circles concerned—and above all among designers themselves—is whether they should rather be equated with free artists or with scientists, who are entrusted with the solution of a given problem. Since discussion on this point rages even at the highest levels, but has never been carried far enough beyond the limits of the private conversation, the AGI decided on a thorough investigation of the question.’

      • A Time of
      • 1970–79
      • 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.