Artist Wolfgang Tillmans and Architect Rem Koolhaas Think the European Union Gets a Bad Rap. So They Want You to Rebrand It.

The pair call for pro-Europe ideas and images to challenge the rising tide of nationalism and growing support of far-right parties.

"The Image of Europe" European Union exhibition in Brussels in 2004, led by Rem Koolhaas and Reinier de Graaf from AMO. Photo by Hans Werlemann. Courtesy OMA.

The artist Wolfgang Tillmans and architect Rem Koolhaas along with his colleague at his firm OMA, the architecture historian Stephan Petermann, are calling on fellow creatives to help rebrand the European Union as populist nationalism increases and Brexit negotiations drag on.

The political and economic union of 28 countries, which will soon be 27 as the UK is due to Brexit in 2019, is under increasing pressure. “We must never forget that the New Right is well organized and is operating transnationally. They want nothing more than to see the European Project fail,” Tillmans tells artnet News.

They are asking for ideas on how to better communicate the EU as a part of the second biennial Forum on European Culture. The four-day event called “Act for Democracy!” is due to take place in Amsterdam from May 31 through June 3 this year. Eurolab is seeking artists, writers, designers and other creatives to come together to brainstorm ways to give the EU what is being called a necessary “rebrand” or, in words that Tillmans prefers to use, “better communication.”

They are asking for drafts, designs, photos, poems, words, and short film scripts that can contribute to an improved communication campaign for Europe, inviting proposals which they will personally jury. The call runs through April 18.

“Rem Koolhaas has done a lot of advocacy and work for many years and I spent a good part of the last two years working on this,” Tillmans says. “I look forward to the Forum on European Culture becoming a body that can channel individual efforts into a bigger movement.”

“People who value the achievements of the EU and democracy in general need to stand up in a positive, forward-looking, non-defensive way,” Tillmans says. “I dream of a massive counter-movement that makes the populist right-wing surge look like a short lasting blip on the graph of time.”

A new poster by Wolfgang Tillmans.

Pro-EU poster by Wolfgang Tillmans in the lead up to the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK.

The trio have been outspoken in their support of the EU, especially in the face of recent resurgent nationalism. Tillmans disseminated his pro-EU poster campaign in the lead-up to the UK’s Brexit referendum in 2016. In 2001, Koolhaas launched his ongoing project “The Image of Europe” and has released several images rebranding the EU, including an updated flag among other re-designed European logos. Together with Petermann, they have maintained an ongoing dialogue with the EU itself.

“We feel that the creative community could do much more than they’re doing now in terms of helping some of these institutes to better communicate their message,” says Petermann. He has been working closely with Koolhaas and OMA over the past 13 years, and has collaborated with the architect on many of his projects, including the Venice Biennial in 2014 and his think tank, AMO.

Barcode European Union flag redesign by Rem Koolhaas in 2004. Courtesy OMA.

“In our talks with the EU’s corporate communication department, it is apparent that they simply cannot organize themselves in a way that is less bureaucratic (not in a negative sense),” Petermann says. “They are overwhelmed with their supposed tasks and they are strictly bound by all the rules which are there for good reasons, but this is also prevents them from having the clear and more modern voice that we could have.”

The European elections are coming up in May 2019, and the continent has seen an dramatic rise in nationalism and divisive campaign messages in recent elections in countries like France, Poland, Austria, and Italy most recently. Various art world members, including Tillmans, expressed their horror at the unprecedented rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany last year in their federal elections.

The forum will review the past 25 years in Europe and look at its various failings, successes, and possibilities for improvements. The three will sit on a panel chaired by Tillmans and Koolhaus and assess the material, and with the help of various experts from branding and political outreach, they hope to build the material into a running campaign in the lead up to the elections next year.

Tillmans is concerned about how few people are alarmed at how real the threat is. “How would you feel if you suddenly couldn’t get together to protest? Or you couldn’t go to a concert with dissident voices? This is becoming the norm in many countries, and President Trump is flirting with their leaders.”

“The Image of Europe” European Union exhibition in Brussels in 2004, led by Rem Koolhaas and Reinier de Graaf from AMO. Photo Hans Werlemann. Courtesy OMA.

Tillmans adds: “Anyone reading this and also feeling passionate about this: Please get over your sense of embarrassment and drop us a line. I realized two years ago, if I don’t overcome my own sense of personal embarrassment to speak up, how can I expect others to do so?”

Submissions are being accepted between now and April 18. For more information and for submission guidelines, visit

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics