The 1960s was a culturally transformative time for the Netherlands, seeing the rise of a “new consumerism,” where the conservatism of 1950s Dutch society transitioned toward a more progressive, liberal outlook. Perhaps the most emblematic symbol of this shift is seen in the period’s graphic design, which turned away from the austerity of Modernism in favor of a more youthful, imaginative representation of Dutch public life. While this has often been traced in the emergence of cultural magazines such as Avenue and the cultural supplement of the NRC Handelsblad, the most visible change occurred in the field of advertising. And in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was the collaboration of two figures later known as the enfant terribles of Dutch graphic design that proved pivotal.
Born on the outskirts of Amsterdam in 1940 and 1944 respectively, Anthon Beeke and Swip Stolk grew up as members of the “protest generation” that came of age in the midst of the Dutch ’60s. At the height of Amsterdam’s countercultural movement, Swip Stolk had designed covers and lettering for the anarchist Provo magazine—co-founded by his brother Rob and written by fellow co-founder Roel van Duijn—while Beeke had been involved in the design of Fluxus artist Willem de Ridder’s Hitweek magazine. But by the end of the decade, both had also shown an aptitude for more commercial projects. Beeke had designed packaging for the toy and board game manufacturer, Jumbo (before his employers saw a photograph of him protesting with anarchist group Provo and he was fired), while Stolk had produced striking campaigns for De Bijenkorf department store and the Nederlands Zuivelbureau (Dutch Dairy Board) under the guidance of Paul Mertz at the Prad advertising agency.
For advertising agencies such as Prad (a portmanteau of progressive advertising), the attraction to designers such as Beeke and Stolk, who had formed a loose alliance towards the end of the 1960s, was indicative of a larger turn in Dutch advertising strategy. The postwar increases in employment and the continual rise of real wages meant that by the late 1960s, for the first time, the Dutch youth were active participants in the country’s booming consumer culture and represented an important new audience.
Prad, as well as other successful agencies like Franzen, Hey & Veltman, and Kirschner Vettewinkel Van Hees, recognized that teenagers and young adults required a more imaginative, visual approach. This new style, in stark contrast to the abstract Modernism of previous years, is reflected in Beeke and Stolk’s 1972 poster for the Intercity line of the Dutch Railways. The image combines vibrant color and idiosyncratic illustrations of characters that were traced over photographs but include additional details, using faces that snake across the curves of white and green striped tracks. The composition is almost entirely visual: in a distinct shift from 1950s advertising, Beeke and Stolk’s image barely engages with particularity of the product, and instead focuses on a more romantic image of consumer experience.
This equalization of text and image was part of a “reactive revolution” in 1960s advertising, led by the American ad man William Bernbach, co-founder of the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency. Bernbach’s style focused on the “soft sell,” in which advertisers were to “appeal to a consumer’s intelligence and imagination,” over the traditional “hard sell,” which narrowed in on a product’s particular selling points. We see this conceptual transformation realized in Beeke and Stolk’s campaign for French car manufacturer Citroën in 1974. Unlike the designs of Karel Suyling, whose advertising for Citroën throughout the 1950s and 1960s saw the car and its features dominate the image, Beeke and Stolk’s campaign relegated them to the periphery. Central instead are illustrations of the “new consumer,” for whom the product is no longer just an object, but a means to a new, liberating lifestyle. In each of the campaign’s posters, which visualize a number of differing scenarios, the car remains in the corner, only half of its body visible, while viewers are drawn to the silhouetted figures who climb out one by one, recreational tool in hand, as if the Citroën itself has transported them from the drudgery of the 1950s to the leisure society of the following decades.
The Netherlands’ embrace of consumer culture, however, was not only a case of postwar introspection but also—as the influence of Bernbach’s ideas suggest—one of American influence. In the years following the Marshall Plan, through which the U.S. injected millions of dollars’ worth of American consumer goods into the Dutch economy, the vernacular of American pop-culture became an ever-present motif in the Dutch imagination. In Beeke and Stolk’s poster for De Bijenkorf’s ‘Gay Seventies’ campaign we see this connection, well-established in Dutch society, between modern consumerism and the American aesthetic. In a similar composition to Andy Warhol’s 1962 Marilyn Diptych, Beeke and Stolk render a grid of smiling faces welcoming the viewer into the “wonderbaarlijk wereldje” (wonderful little world) of De Bijenkorf. In the gleaming style of American Pop Art, Beeke and Stolk’s design reads less like an invitation into the Dutch department store, but more as a summons into the bewitching world of U.S.-style consumer culture.
Despite their successes, the relationship between Beeke and Stolk and the institutions of commercial culture was never short of difficulty. As early as 1970, the pair were invited to design the ‘Young People Today’ issue of Grafisch Nederland, an annual journal for the Dutch printing and graphic design industry, for which their use of an erotic comic strip was ultimately deemed inappropriate by the journal’s editorial board. Their inclusion in organisations such as the ADCN (Art Directors Club Netherland) also proved ineffective, with their work often misunderstood or marginalized by the group’s existing members. In a similar fashion to their New York-based inspiration, Push Pin Studios, Beeke and Stolk were operating in the apertures between subculture and mainstream.
But by the middle of the 1970s, Beeke and Stolk’s short-lived alliance with the field of commerce had begun to dissolve. And after a four-year stint as co-editors of Dutch architectural magazine Forum between 1971 and 1975, they too went their separate ways. Yet, in this brief collaboration between two of the most tendentious graphic designers of the 20th century, we see evidence of an aesthetic optimism that, in the 1960s and ’70s, established a new kind of dialogue between Dutch advertising and its new consumer.