Surprises from the depot
Interview with Ingeborg de Roode by Viveka van de Vliet.
‘We participate in events in order to be able to focus more attention on design, as was previously the case with Inside Design or the Experimenta design biennial, but for some time there has been nothing specific in that area in the city. It so happens that GLUE coincides exactly with the 125th anniversary of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in September,’ says Ingeborg de Roode, curator of industrial design at the museum. To celebrate, she is preparing a major exhibition entitled: ‘From Thonet to Dutch design – 125 years of living at the Stedelijk.’ Here, GLUE will open with a debate on why designers are important to the city and how they can contribute to it.
For almost 125 years, the museum has been exhibiting furniture and other interior designs, which have been actively collected since 1934. It is the perfect time for visitors to walk past some 300 items from this internationally renowned collection of pioneering designs. The exhibition starts with one of the oldest pieces of furniture in the collection, the 1849 Café Daum bench by the Thonet brothers, and guides the visitor through schools such as the Wiener Werkstätte, the Amsterdam School, and Scandinavian design, to the rise of plastic in the 1960s, the exuberant Italian Memphis design of the 1980s, and Dutch design of the period thereafter, to conclude with current topics, such as sustainability, inclusion and democratisation, and the impact of the corona crisis on design in the Netherlands.
‘It’s good to reflect on this complicated time and to ask the question how things are going with Dutch designers,’ says the curator. Together with the professional association for Dutch designers (Beroepsvereniging voor Nederlandse Ontwerpers or BNO), the museum, therefore, conducted a survey on the impact of corona on the sector. The expectations are not high: many creatives expect to lose 50% of their turnover until at least the end of next year. That’s why it is good to make the creative industry in Amsterdam visible and to give it more attention and appreciation,’ De Roode decidedly believes. ‘The focus is often on creativity in Eindhoven, but figures from Statistics Netherlands show that it is the province of North Holland – with Amsterdam at the forefront – that has the largest concentration of industrial and product designers, namely 34 percent! That’s twice as many as Brabant, and 25% of all communication and graphic designers,’ she says with amazement. ‘In that perspective, we really have something to offer with “From Thonet to Dutch design”.’
For many, the exhibition will be a trip down memory lane, but De Roode also digs up all kinds of surprises from the depot. Here, she came across a relatively unknown piece by Bertha Bake, a parchment print she had made for the opening of the Museum of Applied Art at the Stedelijk, which has not been shown for decades.
‘I find it exciting to broaden our view, not to highlight Rietveld’s iconic Red-Blue chair, but his more unfamiliar designs.’ She also makes us look differently at the familiar Scandinavian design that we usually give characteristics such as: light, wood, organic, simple. ‘I also chose some unexpected, almost Baroque pieces from our extensive collection, such as an armchair made of injected polyurethane foam by Gunnar Aagaard Andersen. This allows us to nuance a movement that is taken for granted,’ she says.
Another legend is Lambertus Zwiers, who was far ahead of his time with his fabulous wallpaper designs in the Amsterdam School period. He had a solo exhibition of his expressive design drawings at the Stedelijk as early as 1917; in 2011, the museum was pleasantly surprised by his grandson’s donation: a large collection of his pattern designs from which a wide selection is now on display for the first time.
The curator also spotlights female designers. ‘I actively sought out women who are relatively sparsely represented in the Stedelijk’s collection, especially in the field of furniture design. In the past, they had fewer options, were less visible, and their names were often erased. So, today, the museum shows chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, and we take Charlotte Perriand out of the shadow of Le Corbusier under whose name she designed in the twenties.’ The museum now shows one of her chairs from the 1950s. ‘I’m glad that almost twenty percent of what we’re showing is by female creators, allowing us to give a more diverse picture of the history of design.’
De Roode hails from Beverwijk and studied Art History in Leiden. ‘My parents thought Amsterdam was a little too risky for a seventeen-year-old. You can disappear into the background there, while Leiden is nice as a student city,’ she says. Immediately after her studies, however, she left for the capital where she has been living for thirty years. ‘I find the diversity of the cultural offerings and thea presence of many creatives in Amsterdam particularly inspiring,’ she says. She has also been working at the Stedelijk for nineteen years because it is the largest museum in the Netherlands in the field of modern design and visual art, and it never gets boring, she believes. She went through the rebuilding and renovation, and she has gone through eight (interim) directors, of whom the current director, Rein Wolfs, considers design to be of paramount importance, to her great pleasure.
In recent years, De Roode has put together successful exhibitions here, such as those on Marcel Wanders and Studio Drift. And soon, she’s hoping to welcome a broad and new audience. ‘These are also people without a museum card who are triggered by this subject, or who are surprised to find: “Hey, you can’t just go to a showroom, shop or design hub during GLUE, but you can also go to a museum!”’