Design Ingenuity from the Netherlands to Grace the Wolfsonian–FIU

In Fall 2016, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University will debut Modern Dutch Design, an examination of innovative design from the Netherlands between 1890 and 1940. On view November 18, 2016 through June 11, 2017, the exhibition traces how Dutch designers, architects, and artists evolved in the modern age—cementing their country’s reputation as a center for cutting-edge design—and follows the development of unique styles and movements including Nieuwe Kunst, the Amsterdam School, and De Stijl. Over 200 works ranging from furniture and metalwork to posters and drawings will reveal how these pioneers responded to radical shifts in social and political life, promoted international travel and trade, and found inspiration from the cultures of the Dutch colonies overseas.

In tandem with Modern Dutch Design, The Hague-based contemporary artist Christie van der Haak will activate the exterior of The Wolfsonian’s iconic Mediterranean Revival-style building by wrapping sections with her signature, tapestry-inspired patterns. Van der Haak’s bright, intricate ornamentation will visually announce Modern Dutch Design to passersby in South Beach, bring the legacy of Dutch design shown in the galleries into full public view, and bridge the exhibition’s historic focus into the now. Funded by generous support from the Mondriaan Fund, Creative Industries Fund NL, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the installation promises to be among the largest public art experiences on Miami Beach during Miami Art Week 2016—spanning three levels on two sides of the façade, and reaching a height of more than sixty feet above street level. Nightly wall projections on the museum’s north face will also expand on this exciting encounter with contemporary Dutch design.

“During these decades, Dutch design shows a constant tension between structure and decoration,” said Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione, who organized the exhibition. “Together with an emphasis on geometry, this tension reaches its purest form in the plain and abstract language of De Stijl, the avant-garde movement that had such a major impact on postwar and contemporary designers. We’re thrilled to be mining the riches of The Wolfsonian’s collection to illustrate this trajectory to the public with some of the greatest examples of Dutch design in the U.S.”

“When I saw the tiered façade of The Wolfsonian, I was over the moon,” explained van der Haak. “It is the perfect canvas for my work, which consists of patterns and the interweaving of different patterns. By changing patterning by floor, my project will trigger associations with design from various cultures and ages, mirroring the exhibition inside.”

“Every December during Art Basel Miami Beach and DesignMiami/, the latest, trendsetting designs are presented to the world. We could not ask for better timing to present Christie’s project alongside our unparalleled Dutch collection,” said Tim Rodgers, Wolfsonian director. “The synergy between our exhibition of modern Dutch design and Christie’s transformation of the museum’s façade will highlight the significant contributions Dutch designers and artists have made both in the past and in the present. Without a doubt, these presentations will be the talk of the design community during Miami Art Week.”

Showcasing selections from The Wolfsonian’s world-renowned collection of Dutch decorative arts and works on paper in addition to loans from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Modern Dutch Design will provide a basic chronology of “Dutch style” during its most influential period. After beginning with Nieuwe Kunst’s flat, geometric, stylized motifs adapted from batik from the Dutch East Indies, the exhibition then explores two rival avant-garde stylistic movements: The Amsterdam School (with more ornate, sculptural elements) and De Stijl (featuring a minimalist palette of primary colors), which opened the way to Nieuwe Bouwen (New Building), the Dutch branch of Functionalism. From low-income housing plans to luxurious ocean liners and Bensdorp chocolate ads, Modern Dutch Design reflects design’s mark on all aspects of Dutch life in this time—the public, private, and commercial spheres alike.

Key works include:

  • A model of a mosque (c. 1893) that served as an advertising display for J.W. Smitt Tea and Coffee’s products from the East Indies, expressing Europe’s taste for the exotic and possibly showcased at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair;
  • A 1898 poster by the Java-born artist Jan Toorop, announcing a lottery held at the National Exhibition of Women’s Labor, which championed the improvement of the working conditions of the female labor force, and showing Indonesian influence through “fear” of empty space (horror vacui);
  • Architect and designer Michel de Klerk’s deep purple velvet armchair (1916) from a suite produced for the Amsterdam company ‘t Woonhuis, with expressive sculptural forms and references to Indonesian architecture;
  • A chandelier (c. 1915) with marine motifs and references to navigation and trade, also by de Klerk and featured in the offices of the Scheepvarthuis (Shipping House), the headquarters for six Amsterdam shipping companies that was widely considered the Amsterdam School’s “manifesto”;
  • A clock and set of incense burners (c. 1920) by Amsterdam School sculptor Hildo Krop, whose works populate buildings, low-income housing, and bridges throughout Amsterdam;
  • Sculptor Bernardus Jakobus Richters’ c. 1920 silk shade table lamp decorated in the batik technique, the Javanese wax-resist method adopted by Dutch Nieuwe Kunst artists and the Amsterdam School for bookbindings, objects, and furniture;
  • The Peer [Pear] service (c. 1926) of Leerdam glassware by Andries Copier, exemplifying the new modern style that merged geometric proportions with natural forms, in this case a pear;
  • Giso 404 (1927), a piano lamp of balanced geometric forms designed by J.J.P. Oud, one of the founding members of De Stijl, and produced by the Rotterdam manufacturer Gispen;
  • A 1930 poster promoting the annual trade fair Utrecht Jaarbeurs, founded in 1917 to revive the economic and commercial situation in the Netherlands, in De Stijl-inspired primary colors; and
  • Van Nelle’s Pakjes Koffie [Van Nelle’s Packed Coffee], a c. 1930 advertisement for the Rotterdam tobacco, coffee, and tea factory Van Nelle, evoking the De Stijl movement and German industrial design aesthetic to project Van Nelle’s progressive, modern public image.

The Wolfsonian will publish a full-color book to accompany the exhibition, with essays by Barisione; Marjan Groot, senior lecturer in the history of design at the VU University Amsterdam; Frans Leidelmeijer, Dutch decorative arts expert; and Mienke Simon Thomas, senior curator of decorative arts and design at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

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