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Dutch design from a crafts perspective

Last April Dutch Design - Huis van Oranje, or Excellent craft at the Court, opened at Oranienbaum Castle – within a stone’s throw from Dessau and Berlin.

By No author /asdf 18-05-2012

The design exhibition in a 300-year-old palace is an example of good Dutch cultural entrepreneurship, curated and produced by Nicole Uniquole.

The severe Dutch Baroque palace was built for a Dutch princess Van Oranje-Nassau married to the German prince of Anhalt-Dessau. The couple collected objects d’art, specifically ceramics, glass and crystal. The renovated crystal and porcelain rooms and the cellar (the cool summer diner room) where the vaults are elegantly covered with Delft blue tiles, bear witness to the taste of the former owners. Yet people died and history went on and the palace became a displaced remnant of royalty in the socialist German Democratic Republic, the shutters were closed for decades.

Invited by the Dutch ambassador to see if she would be interested to organise an event in the castle, Uniquole immediately came under the spell of this silent building that has been under restoration for many years. Thanks to her initiative the castle revived, electricity was installed, and toilet blocks, a ticket and museum shop and a small café with a terrace. On top of that many people from the village Oranienbaum (called after the family name Oranje) got a job thanks to the project.

The exhibition combines contemporary Dutch crafts, design and fashion with historical objects from the Dutch royal archives, family portraits and the setting of the castle, partly re-establishing the original function of some 50 rooms. Maarten Spruyt’s (with Tsur Reshef) exhibition design, based on interior details and executed with simple means, creates a stylistic unity and an atmosphere of opulence.  

As the different Dutch and English titles show, there is not a strictly defined theme; it may be craftsmanship in Dutch design but also the history of the palace and its residents. The wall texts focus on historical data: the visitor is introduced to late 17th century courtly customs and habits but information about design objects is scarce – to learn more one has to buy the catalogue.

The choice of contemporary objects is broad and encompasses inventive designs such as Anna Korshun’s vacuum formed leather shoes, examples of craftsmanship such as Iris Nieuwenburg’s and Jantje Fleischhut’s composed brooches, and research projects such as Hella Jongerius’s series of 100 coloured vases for Royal Tichelaar Makkum. Well-known designs such as Van Eijk & Van der Lubbe’s Bobbin Lace Lamp are shown alongside unknown objects such as Queen Juliana’s writing desk sawn in two and transformed by Rolf.Fr. or Femke Roefs’ Tea Cabinet. Good craftsmanship is the leading principle for the selection, reflecting the status quo in the artistically driven segment of design Holland is renowned for. For the first time the borders between design and crafts that have been so carefully safeguarded by the design people for decades, are levelled. In Oranienbaum there is no difference between a handmade cupboard or a necklace, a dress or an installation for home brewed wine - it is all about a change in perspective.

Special mention needs the Crystal and Mirror Room. Once it must have made an overwhelming impression on every visitor but nothing is left of it apart from the space, some descriptions and some shards of chandeliers excavated in the garden. Thanks to glassblower Bernard Heesen’s installation visitors get a glimpse of splendour and enchantment, topped with humour and extravagance.

Nicole Uniquole is asked to organise design exhibitions here the next 5 years: it will  save Oranienbaum from oblivion.

Main image: exhibition room featuring Viktor & Rolf
Other images: 1. Overview with Sabine Marcelis 2. Crystal Room, Bernard Heesen 3. Hella Jongerius 4. wallpaper by Ed Annink 5. photo CornbreadWorks (, Broken Desk "Juliana & Rolf") 6. photo Marijn van der Sluis (Robbert van Strien, Plumber's Flora) 7. photo Patrick Cooper (Liza Witte, Silhouette)

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