Spanning the years 1963–1966, Typomundus 20 was an international travelling exhibition of juried typographic design works that sought to represent a collected world of typography as art. Conceived under the auspices of the International Center for the Typographic Arts in New York (ICTA, which also sponsored the organization of Vision 65), Typomundus drew approximately 12,000 submissions from countries all over the world from its initial call for entries in 1963. The exhibition notice announced the show’s aim of being “the first worldwide exhibition of the most significant typography of the 20th century”; the name Typomundus itself, a compound of the Greek and Latin words “typo” and “mundus”, meaning “impression” and “world” respectively, revealed the exhibition’s global aspirations. The epithet was illustrated to represent this idea on the exhibition catalog cover symbolically: the letter “O” in typo was replaced by an image of a golden globe representing a map of the world.

As Cheryl Dipede has recently underlined, this traveling exhibition helped to produce and advertise a new discourse that allowed typographers and communication designers to think of themselves as belonging to a unified, distinct community of “graphic designers”, by promoting reflection on the status and role of graphic design with respect to high art, mass communication, and society at large, by advancing a set of professional standards through expert judging and education, and by facilitating an exchange of ideas among professionals and the international graphic design community. Not incidentally, the term graphic designer began to predominate more or less in the same period: designers who had previously considered themselves as typographic designers eventually dropped the typo, as the term came to reflect the expanded role of the professional designer in the media revolution underway within the society at large.

The philosopher and media theorist (and friend of Grignani) Marshall McLuhan intervened in an attendant discourse emphasizing the social role of typography as a means of international communication and cooperation, following his 1962 book “The Gutenberg Galaxy” (three key ideas from this book caught the attention of the postwar design community: the pursuit of typography as a unifying cultural force; the importance of print culture as a central organizer of social thought; the idea that individual societies would assemble into a global village under the effects of new electronic media).

Only 612 entries out of 12,000 submitted were selected. Typomundus President and Director of ICTA Aaron Burns encouraged the twelve international jurors (none of them from Italy, as “Leo Lionni and Giovanni Pintori were unable to attend”, from Graphis issue n° 121, 1965) to evaluate the exhibition’s submissions according to aesthetic standards such as “form, beauty, appeal, and excellence of typographic artistry”. So high were the requirements of the jury that the juror Louis Dorfsman remarked that “the standards of this show are so tough, I doubt whether Gutenberg’s Bible would make the show”. Franco Gignani participated with four ads for Alfieri & Lacroix, for which he received the highly coveted recognition merit of the ICTA for the “Typomundus 20”:

Typomundus’ mandate also included the creation of a permanent archive at ICTA’s offices in New York both to house the selected entries and to serve as “a research centre for designers, educators, and students”. Typomundus thus represented the ambitions of an international organization not to merely display but to gather, preserve, and document a global history of typographic design for the first sixty years of the twentieth century.

Marilyn Hoffner, from the ICTA’s Publicity Committee (the only observer admitted at the jury’s works), concluded wishing Typomundus 20 helped establish high international standards in typographic design with “a level of excellence for the whole world to emulate”.

After the judging in October 1964, the ICTA in NY and the Toronto-based Society of Typographic Designers of Canada (the show was supposed to take place in New York but was moved to Toronto due to the height of the Cold War) planned to exhibit the best pieces in NY in April 1965. But, unfortunately, the whole collection was dumped by accident in Toronto, although much of it had fortunately been photographed beforehand: “The 10,000 pieces had been stored in a midtown rented room since last October. An unidentified landlord is said to have mistaken the collection for junk and sent it to the incinerator after someone neglected to pay him $55 monthly rent for the room. […] Aaron Burns, director of the Typographic Arts Centre in New York, described the loss as «beyond comprehension».” [from The Gazette – Montréal, Jan 22, 1965]. Local residents helped to gather materials from the garbage and some entrants were anyway able to resubmit copies of their work for the book (published by Reinhold, NY, in the featured pic above), which was finally published in 1966, missing 77 exhibits, and a travelling show was exhibited in New York, “Stuttgart, Zurich, London, Paris, Prague, Leipzig, Tokyo, Toronto, and other major cities” [from Graphis issue n° 121, 1965] around the world, to high acclaim.

Future editions were planned to follow the initial one every three years, including scheduling for 1967. But these plans remained unrealized until May 1969, when ICTA called for “Typomundus 20/2”: “The International Center for the Typographic Arts has issued 200,000 calls for entries to typographers, designers, craftsmen, and art directors throughout the world for “Typomundus 20/2”, the second world-wide exhibition documenting the most significant typographic designs of the 20th century. […] Judging will take place in September in Stuttgart, Germany by an international jury of ten renowned designers. Entries may include all forms of typographic design produced between 1900 and 1969: books, book jackets, catalogs, magazines and newspapers, printing for commerce and governments, posters, advertisements, packages, experimental design, trademarks, stamps. Photographs or slides may be submitted for typography in architecture, displays and exhibits, film titles and TV commercials.” [from The Publishers Weekly, Volume 195, May 5, 1969]

Typomundus 20/2, 1969
Call for Entries – Typomundus 20/2, 1969 [a]

On this occasion, as the sole Italian, Franco Grignani was honored to participate in the jury.

Eventually, 5700 entries from 31 countries were judged by seven jurors: (clockwise in the photo) Herb Lubalin (USA), Hans Schleger (Great Britain), Jean Widmer (France), Wim Crouwel (Netherlands), Tibor Szántó (Hungary), Franco Grignani (Italy), and Willy Fleckhaus (Federal Republic of Germany):

Ariadne (nl), Feb. 1970: the 7 jurors of Typomundus 20/2 (Grignani is in the middle of the foreground)
Ariadne (nl), Feb. 1970: the 7 jurors of Typomundus 20/2 (Grignani is in the middle of the foreground)

The awards were given to 570 works for “outstanding contributions to the development of the graphic arts in the 20th Century”; the first showing of the exhibition was held in Stuttgart, but further exhibits in major cities were planned all over the world.

This was the last edition: due to the different typographical trends and the different points of view of the associated, ICTA (founded in 1960) ceased its work in the early 1970s.


[*] courtesy of Daniela Grignani
[a] from Graphis issue n° 141, 1969
[1] graphéine

[this post is not CC BY-NC 4.0 due to some adaptations from “Canadian Graphic Design in the 1950s and 1960s: The Shaping of a Profession” by Cheryl Dipede]