An Alphabet of Cases from The Palace of Typographic Masonry

Graphic Days Torino is the largest graphic design festival in Southern Europe. This year the focus will be on The Netherlands, with Graphic Matters director Dennis Elbers as co-curator. Elbers invited graphic designer Richard Niessen to make his ‘Palace of Typographic Masonry’ publicly available for the first time.

Imaginary museum
Since 2015 designer Richard Niessen has been working on ‘The Palace of Typographic Masonry’. An imaginary museum presenting the splendour and variety of graphic design. Typical graphic aspects such as Sign, Symbol and Ornament, Construction, Poetics and Play, Order, Craft and Practice will be discussed.

“Graphic design surrounds us more than ever, but we rarely stop to think about it. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than an infinite building where all aspects of shaping human information, from all times and from all places in the world, is collected” says Niessen about his motivation for his project.

His fictional museum building has three floors with nine departments and -not coincidentally- twenty-six rooms. The contents of some of these rooms has already been published in previous years. Various designers created posters, books, videos, installations, lectures and an interactive tool to represent parts of the museum. During Graphic Days the museum is no longer imaginary, but for the first time it can be visited physically as a whole.

This does not require a colossal building. Niessen designed a special traveling drawer system. Each of the twenty-six drawers contains a pop-up room. The total collection contains over 600 graphic objects, of which 130 will be on display in Turin. Including work by well-known Dutch designers such as Karel Martens, Hansje van Halem, Wim Crouwel, Mevis & van Deursen, Carlijn Kingma, Experimental Jetset, Thonik, Lust, Moniker and Irma Boom. Especially for the occasion, there are contributions from Vanessa van Dam, fanfare, Esther de Vries, RNDR, Harmen Liemburg, Metahaven, The Rodina and Studio Joost Grootens, among others. Each room is accompanied by an audio guide. The story behind the collection is told from the perspective of its initiator Richard Niessen.

Eyes on The Netherlands
Every year Graphic Days® attracts thousands of visitors for a program with exhibitions, lectures and workshops. Dutch designers such as Erik Kessels, Studio Spass, Ilse Weisfelt and Weareoutofoffice have participated in the previous editions. Stimulated by the great Italian interest in Dutch design, the organization has opted for an all-Dutch edition this spring.

Besides ‘The Palace of Typographic Masonry’ there will also be exhibitions by Studio Dumbar, Thonik, Trapped in Suburbia, typographic designer Daan Rietbergen and hand-lettering collective High on Type. ‘Eyes On the Netherlands’ will be accompanied by a series of online events with Dutch design professionals, available for free to an international audience.

Like its Italian counterpart, Graphic Matters also presents how visual communication shapes our world. In the last decade exhibitions of this biennial festival were shown all over Europe. Unique about ‘The Palace of Typographic Masonry’ is that the show can first be seen abroad before it is on display in The Netherlands. This is made possible due to the support of the Creative Industries Fund NL, the Pictoright fund and Embassy and Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Italy. In 2022 the exhibition will also be presented in Paris.

Richard Niessen (b. 1972) is known for his colourful posters and expressive typography, innovative identities and collaborations with other artists. In 2007 he presented his retrospective ‘TM-City’ at the leading festival of Chaumont. The exhibition was later shown by Graphic Matters and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam writes about Niessen: “By stacking and arranging typographic elements, he creates interwoven linear patterns that cannot be compared anywhere else in Dutch graphic design.”

Niessen teaches at the KABK in The Hague and regularly gives workshops and lectures to students and designers around the world. His work has been exhibited in various museums. Besides commissioned work he initiates autonomous projects. In 2015 he started ‘The Palace of Typographic Masonry’. An experimental research project that connects graphic design with other disciplines and places the profession in a broader cultural history.

Graphic Days Torino
‘Eyes on The Netherlands’
May 14-30, 2021
Toolbox Torino, via Agostino da Montefeltro 2, Turijn

Talk and workshops to be announced!

Author info


Director/founder Graphic Matters.